We have all forgotten certain information at some point in our lives. It is this everyday forgetfulness that causes us to set reminders, write lists, put appointments in calendars, and map out our days with planners. From setting alarms to wake up or go to an appointment to writing sticky notes and posting them on the fridge, we all have our ways of reminding ourselves.
This forgetfulness can become more frequent as we age, but occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. Even though memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, just because you forgot to move your laundry from the washer into the dryer does not mean you are experiencing its early stages.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, “there are over 9.9 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, implying one new case every 3.2 seconds.” With the number of dementia cases increasing, it is important for you to understand the key differences between age-related forgetfulness vs. dementia. McClellan Senior Living proudly offers senior living options in Anniston, Alabama, and we want to help you understand the differences to promote healthy aging habits.
Forgetfulness vs. Dementia: What’s “Normal?”
The main distinguishing factor between age-related forgetfulness and dementia is its impact on your day-to-day life. Although forgetting where you placed your glasses is inconvenient, it does not affect your ability to function.
The memory loss associated with dementia can inhibit a person from living their life as they normally would. Help Guide states, “when memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts your work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, you may be experiencing the warning signs of [dementia].”
Symptoms of Age-Related Forgetfulness
As mentioned previously, forgetfulness is a part of the aging process. Forgetting to complete a task or misplacing an item does not mean that you are experiencing the early signs of dementia. “This loss of [mental] efficiency is gradual. And like many other age-associated changes in the body, cognitive aging tends to happen a little differently for every person, in part due to things like genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors (betterhealthwhileaging.net).”
Scenarios associated with age-related forgetfulness could include:
- Occasionally misplacing commonly used items such as keys, glasses, wallet, etc.
- Forgetting the name of an acquaintance.
- Interchanging similar names or memories; for instance, calling your granddaughter by your daughter’s name.
- Missing the occasional appointment or forgetting why you walked into a room after you entered (we’ve all done this!).
- Having difficulty recalling what you have just read or heard or not remembering the details of a conversation.
Warning Signs of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia do not only affect an individual’s memory, but can affect their ability to carry out the activities of daily living, work, or manage relationships.
Scenarios that could indicate more severe memory loss could include:
- Difficulty performing simple tasks such as dressing appropriately for the day.
- Forgetting how to do things you have done many times; for instance, paying bills or use your television remote.
- Getting lost or disoriented – even in familiar places.
- Becoming confused about time, people, and places.
- Frequently forgetting common words, misusing phrases, or repeating stories in the same conversation.
- Asking the same question repeatedly.
- Having trouble making simple choices or showing poor judgment.
- Not being able to follow instructions, such as a recipe.
Other Factors that Can Impact Memory Loss
When examining age-related forgetfulness vs. dementia, it is important to be mindful of progression. Though forgetfulness is a common component in the aging process, normal age-related forgetfulness does not progress or worsen to the point of affecting daily living. Beyond dementia, there are external factors that can cause the appearance of severe memory loss, including:
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency. According to helpguide.org, “vitamin B12 protects neurons and is vital to healthy brain functioning… Older people have a slower nutritional absorption rate, which can make it difficult for you to get the B12 your mind and body need.”
- Dehydration. Older adults are more susceptible to dehydration, and severe dehydration can cause confusion, memory loss, and other symptoms that look like dementia. Healthy aging includes staying hydrated - aim for 6-8 drinks per day.
- Side Effects of Certain Medications. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines (or combinations of drugs) can cause cognitive problems and memory loss side effects. This is especially common in older adults as they break down and absorb medication more slowly.
If you or someone you know is experiencing memory loss that seems more severe than age-related forgetfulness, it’s essential to speak with a healthcare provider to review all scenarios and get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
As a senior living provider in Alabama, McClellan Senior Living understands the importance of keeping your mind active and sharp. Forgetfulness can cause frustration but participating in activities that improve your memory and keep your mind alert and can help deter age-related forgetfulness.
We invite you to subscribe to our blog to stay up-to-date on our articles and news about healthy aging, senior health, and more.