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How to Tell the Difference Between Forgetfulness & Dementia


Everybody experiences a little bit of forgetfulness now and then. You might walk into a room and forget why you entered, head to the store and realize you forgot your list, or have absolutely no idea where you set down your keys. (With this last one, retracing your steps is usually the quickest way to relocate them.) And, as people age, it can be normal to experience these slips a little more often than before. After all, your brain has accumulated an immense amount of data over the course of your lifetime – it can be forgiven for not saving every last detail!

But combined with certain other symptoms, forgetfulness may be an indicator of a more serious memory loss illness, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. While some forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, developing a memory loss illness is not considered normal and may lead to a need for greater care and support. The following three questions can help you determine whether you or your loved one are just aging normally or should be evaluated by a professional.

What Types of Things are Being Forgotten?

While momentarily forgetting the names of friends and family or where you put your keys is perfectly normal, forgetting important things like visitors you had that day or everyday words – and not remembering these things later on – can be a sign that something is amiss. The same goes for putting items in strange locations, such as not being able to find your keys because they are in the refrigerator or the silverware drawer. A loved one who is experiencing dementia also may have difficulty retracing their steps in order to find these lost items.

How is Their Sense of Time & Space?

It’s also perfectly normal for older people to momentarily forget what day of the week it is, or even what time it is, but normally this information returns to them fairly quickly. If it doesn’t, that can be a sign of something more serious. Similarly, it’s OK to forget why you entered a room, as long as you do remember eventually. However, if your loved one is getting lost in familiar spaces or often appears confused, that is cause for concern.

Has Their Mood Changed Suddenly?

It’s normal for a person’s mood to change based on any number of factors, from events in their life to what’s happening on the news, or with friends and family. But changes in mood are also very common with dementia, particularly depression. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but combined with unusual anxiety, sadness, or irritability could mean something else is at play. Inappropriate behavior also falls into this category – if you’re loved one is behaving in an inappropriate manner that’s out of character for them, it would be a good idea to schedule an appointment with their doctor.

For more tips on determining whether your loved one is experiencing the normal effects of aging or is in the early stages of a memory loss illness, such as Azheimer’s or another form of dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website. Brightwater Senior Living communities offer comprehensive care and support for seniors living with a memory loss illness. To learn more about our caring communities and the services we provide, visit the Brightwater Senior Living Living Options page.

Living Well