Is It Normal Aging or Early Memory Loss?: Tips to Know the Difference


Many symptoms of early memory loss can look a lot like normal aging. Without understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can be hard to tell the difference. If you suspect that you or a loved one might be exhibiting early signs of memory loss, consider these comparisons between memory loss and normal aging:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

Early Memory Loss: Forgetting new information or important names and dates, relying on memory aids and frequent reminders from family members.
Normal Aging: Occasionally forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems

Early Memory Loss: Having difficulty making a plan and following it, having difficulty concentrating, especially when working with numbers or step-by-step instructions.
Normal Aging: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks

Early Memory Loss: Forgetting where an item is kept, how to drive to a familiar place, or how to play their favorite game.
Normal Aging: Sometimes needing help to record a TV show or access a computer program.

4. Confusion with time or place

Early Memory Loss: Losing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time, forgetting where they are or how they got there.
Normal Aging: Forgetting the date or day of the week but realizing it later.

5. Trouble with visual images or spatial relationships

Early Memory Loss: Difficulty reading, judging distance or determining color.
Normal Aging: Vision changes due to cataracts or low vision.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing

Early Memory Loss: Having trouble following a conversation or finding the right words, making up new words, stopping mid-sentence and not knowing how to continue.
Normal Aging: Occasional trouble finding the right word.

7. Losing the ability to retrace steps

Early Memory Loss: Misplacing things in unusual places and not knowing how to find them, may accuse others of stealing from them.
Normal Aging: Misplacing an object but retraces steps to find it.

8. Decreased or poor judgment

Early Memory Loss: Mishandling money and giving away large amounts to telemarketers, ceasing to take care of personal grooming or appearance.
Normal Aging: Making a bad decision once in awhile.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities

Early Memory Loss: Removing themselves from hobbies and social situations, either because they have trouble remembering or are embarrassed by the changes they’ve experienced.
Normal Aging: Occasional weariness of social obligations or the desire for some free time.

10. Changes in mood or personality

Early Memory Loss: Becoming increasingly confused, anxious, suspicious, fearful or depressed, may be easily upset around people and places that are outside of their comfort zone.
Normal Aging: Becoming irritable when lifelong routines get disrupted.

As you can see, frequency and reason are good ways to tell if a loved one’s behavior is due to memory loss or normal aging. If you recognize any of the early signs of memory loss in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor right away for further evaluation.

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