Some memory loss is expected as our loved ones get older; it’s a natural part of the aging process.
Suddenly, it seems, names can be a little harder to recall, misplaced items a little harder to find. The occasional forgotten appointment, the car that’s hard to locate in the sea of cars in the parking garage, all of these can be symptoms of the gradual memory loss associated with aging.
However, if you have an elderly loved one, you may be wondering how to tell the difference between the normal memory loss of aging, and the more concerning memory loss of dementia.
Normal Aging or Something Else?
First, a few facts: According to the article “Normal Memory Loss or Dementia?” it’s important to remember that dementia and memory loss “are not synonyms.” Our ability to call up memories “on demand” naturally diminishes with age. Even forgetting facts and past events occasionally doesn’t necessarily mean that your loved one’s cognition is impaired.
Keeping in mind that only a doctor can accurately diagnose dementia, if seniors have normal, age-related memory loss, you may notice the following:
- Leaving the room to find something, then forgetting what they went to find.
- Forgetting exactly what day it is and needing to check the calendar.
- Losing something important from time to time — like glasses or a checkbook — but being able to find it when they retrace their steps.
- Forgetting to pay a bill every once in awhile.
- Forgetting the name of a favorite celebrity, then remembering it later.
- Making a bad decision — like leaving the milk out of the refrigerator — on occasion.
- Struggling to remember a simple word for a moment, then remembering it.
- Forgetting the name of an acquaintance or a doctor.
- Getting lost while driving in a new part of town.
- Worrying about their own memory loss.
Concerning signs of memory loss
These are symptoms that may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
You should be concerned if you have noticed loved ones:
- Leaving the room to find something and then forgetting that they were even looking for it.
- Putting things away in places where they don’t belong, like putting eyeglasses in the refrigerator.
- Forgetting what month or season it is and not being able to remember when prompted.
- Losing or misplacing important items all the time and being unable to find them without help.
- Not being able to manage household bills and bank accounts.
- Forgetting the names of their spouse, children or grandchildren.
- Making bad decisions often or showing signs of poor judgment, like allowing strangers into their home or not locking the doors at night.
- Having trouble following a conversation or responding to the give and take of conversations in a normal way.
- Getting lost while driving in a familiar neighborhood.
- Not noticing or not worrying about their memory loss.
If you feel that your loved one’s memory loss is more than just the normal signs of aging, mention your concerns to his or her primary healthcare provider. After more comprehensive testing, there may be interventions or available treatment options.