“Is It Dementia, or Just Forgetfulness?”

It’s a common, harmful stereotype that older people naturally become more forgetful as time passes. If you have a senior loved one, you may have noticed that he or she has shown some signs of forgetting things they used to remember quite easily.

Wondering whether your loved one has developed dementia is normal, but it’s important to understand that there’s a significant difference between a person being forgetful and having dementia.

Let’s explore the differences between normal forgetfulness associated with age and the development of dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a disorder that results in the loss of one’s cognitive skills such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning. As a secondary effect, dementia also alters an individual’s behaviors and eventually interferes with the ability to conduct activities of daily living without assistance.

Dementia can range in severity, but usually, it progresses over time. At first, dementia will manifest as mild, manageable symptoms but some individuals with dementia require round-the-clock help in most aspects of his or her life.

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most common causes of dementia in seniors.

Why Does Memory Loss Happen?

While many older adults won’t experience any decline in his or her cognitive functions, approximately 40% of us deal with some degree of memory loss as we age. This is in comparison with the 5-8% of older adults that develop dementia.

Age-related memory loss happens because, as with most parts of the human body, time starts to decrease the mind’s ability to heal, recharge, and replace damaged or dead cells with new and healthy ones. When we get sick, lose sleep, sustain an injury, or just experience daily wear and tear, our bodies gradually lose the healing efficiency and speed they once had. As such, it takes longer to heal and longer for our immune systems to make standard repairs.

In most cases, the degree of memory loss a person experiences after turning 65 won’t be severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Dementia vs Age-Related Forgetfulness

There are different levels of memory loss, so if you or a senior loved one forget things on occasion, dementia probably isn’t the culprit.

Let’s explore the symptoms associated with age-related memory impairment versus those that occur due to dementia.

Forgetfulness that’s considered normal as we age includes:

  • Forgetting the details of conversations that happened a year ago
  • Difficulty recalling the name of an acquaintance
  • Occasionally failing to remember an event
  • Struggling to find the right words to use on occasion
  • Noticing your own memory issues while family and friends don’t

Normal forgetfulness that comes with aging doesn’t disrupt life for the most part, and individuals who forget things don’t have accompanying medical conditions that contribute to their memory loss.

Dementia, on the other hand, can produce these signs and symptoms.

  • Memory loss that affects daily life
  • Memory loss that makes it difficult for individuals to learn new skills
  • Gradual difficulty completing tasks that an individual is typically familiar with
  • Memory loss that has become noticeable to friends and family

Unlike normal memory issues, the early stages of dementia can make it difficult to remember the details of recent conversations. Dementia can also lead an individual to forget the names of friends and family members or struggle to recognize them. Someone with dementia may forget events and occasions more and more often and struggle to complete sentences.

Oftentimes, an individual who has dementia is unaware of the effects that the disorder is having on his or her life. Your loved one might wave off your concerns, become defensive, or seem completely unaware of their actions when you mention concerning behaviors.

If you’re still concerned about your loved one’s cognitive facilities, it’s in your best interest to reach out to his or her doctor to discuss your thoughts and explore options and resources that’ll help you make sense of what’s happening.