Concerned older woman with tablet computer

What’s the Difference Between Forgetfulness and Dementia?

I’ve misplaced my keys. Does that mean I have dementia? 

It’s estimated that about 10% of people 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, as the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia does increase with age. This leads many older folks to worry every time they forget something or make a mistake.

Please be aware that even the healthiest among us have occasional memory lapses. There are also many things besides Alzheimer’s that may increase forgetfulness. These include a number of medical conditions, emotional issues and even side effects of some medications.

Let’s take a closer look at some common memory hiccups that are considered normal. We’ll also go over the more troubling symptoms that could indicate a more serious problem.

Causes of Forgetfulness in Healthy People

For some people, changes in the brain may lead to increasing forgetfulness with age. It may take a little longer to master a new skill or to recall a piece of information. However, memory lapse can occur at any age. So don’t to be too concerned if you experience some of these from time to time: 

  • Absentmindedness: It’s normal to occasionally lose objects like your keys. And don’t be embarrassed if you’ve ever forgotten why you walked into a room. Everyone does that sometimes! 
  • Blocking: Do you sometimes know the word you want to say but can’t quite retrieve it? This “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon happens to everyone but may become more frequent with age. 
  • Fading away: Most people have trouble recalling old experiences if they don’t spend much time thinking about them. Don’t fret if you can’t remember some minute detail from that holiday party 25 years ago! 
  • Struggling for retrieval: Have you ever forgotten the name of a movie you just saw? Do you find it challenging to learn the name of a new neighbor? No worries! New information competes for our short-term memory, so it’s common to need a reminder. Short term memory loss in elderly people is very common, and not necessarily something to fret over.
  • Difficulty multitasking: You might have trouble talking on the phone while the TV is on or getting back on track after an interruption. While multitasking makes us less effective at every age, it may become even more taxing as we get older. All the more reason to focus on just one thing at a time!

Potential Symptoms of Dementia

What are the early signs of dementia? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early symptoms of dementia go beyond routine forgetfulness. If you or a loved one experiences any of these 10 memory issues, talk to your doctor right away. 

  • Disruptions to daily life: Memory loss caused by dementia isn’t just inconvenient. It interferes with day-to-day functioning. Examples of more serious symptoms include forgetting the directions to one’s own home or how to button a shirt. 
  • Planning and problem solving: Dementia leads to persistent difficulty with things like planning a meal, making routine mathematical calculations or reading an article. 
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks: While most people need practice to pick up a new skill, dementia causes confusion with familiar activities. This includes things like brushing one’s teeth or doing the laundry.  
  • Confusion over time and place: Many people need an occasional reminder of what day it is, but the person with dementia may forget what year it is. They may not remember the dates for Christmas, New Year’s Day or even their own birthday. They may also forget what city, state or country they live in. 
  • Visual and spatial problems: A person with dementia may have trouble recognizing distances, colors or contrasts between colors. This is unrelated to other vision conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration.
  • Trouble speaking and writing: Dementia causes problems with verbal communication, such as understanding what people are saying or responding appropriately. The person may repeat themselves frequently or refer to objects by the wrong name.
  • Misplacing objects and trouble retracing steps: While everyone misplaces items from time to time, this becomes noticeably more frequent with dementia. The person may have trouble retracing their steps to search for the item. They may also place items in unusual places, such as putting their phone in the freezer.  
  • Judgment issues: People with dementia find it harder to use money, such as writing a check or understanding how much something costs at the store. They may pay less attention to grooming or cleaning, such as forgetting to fix their hair or wash their hands.
  • Social withdrawal: If a person has dementia, they may lose interest in socializing, talking on the phone or exchanging online messages. They may stop participating in hobbies they once enjoyed or following their favorite sports team. 
  • Personality and mood changes: As dementia causes increasing confusion and difficulty with once-familiar activities, individuals often become more depressed and anxious. They may become upset more easily, especially if a preferred routine is disrupted. 

As noted above, see a doctor promptly if you or a loved one experience any of these troubling early signs of Alzheimer’s. Early diagnosis and treatment may help to prolong a better quality of life for some patients with dementia.

Dementia can be caused by a variety of things, including Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to understand the difference between common memory lapses and more serious issues. There are many ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. These include social engagement, cognitive stimulation, regular exercise and good nutrition. At the Terrace Retirement Community, residents enjoy an active lifestyle that supports all of these goals. 

If you’d like to request an information packet or schedule a visit, please call us at (573) 875-2538 or contact us online at any time!

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