Teach Me

Memory Loss: Is It Normal Aging Or Dementia?

We’ve all done it.  We can’t find our keys, wallet or phone.  We know someone’s name but just can’t recall it. We walk into a room and forget why we’re there.  With normal aging, we are usually able to retrace our steps and find the wallet or remember the reason we went to the room.

“Everyone has trouble coming up with names now and then,” said Helle Brand, physician assistant and dementia specialist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. “If you have infrequent challenges with your memory and you can retrace your steps, it’s nothing to worry about. It is just normal aging.”

Brand continued, “With progressive memory loss however, you are slower to recall names or can’t recall them at all. If you find yourself or a loved one asking the same questions and repeating the same stories, you may have cause for concern.”

Brand suggests you pay attention to changes over time.  If someone is experiencing memory loss their symptoms will continue to progress. What used to occur once a month will become weekly, then daily, then multiple times a day.

It’s not just memory that changes. Over time you may also see perceptual, language, attention, problem-solving and decision-making difficulties. For instance, you may have difficulty driving and more trouble coming up with words or performing simple tasks.

You should be on the lookout for early coping mechanisms.  If someone writes notes and lists, are they becoming more detailed? Is there a point where they no longer make sense? Is your loved one gradually withdrawing from social activities?

“These changes warrant a visit to a primary care doctor for a memory screening,” said Brand. “Understanding if it’s normal aging or more progressive memory loss can help you better manage the changes."

Tips for normal aging

If you experience memory issues due to normal aging, Brand recommends these helpful tips to spark your memory:

  1. Be mindful. Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. Say out loud where you put your keys.
  2. Participate in prevention activities such as reading, writing, attending lectures and crossword puzzles.
  3. Remain curious and learn new things. Pick up a new instrument or take a dance class.
  4. Maintain a physical exercise routine and have routine visits with your doctor for the benefit of your mind and overall health.
  5. Join a book club or discuss books with friends. This will challenge your brain to remember situations to discuss with a group.
  6. Attend a senior center or get-togethers with friends and family to prevent isolation.

Tips for progressive memory loss

If you or a loved one are experiencing progressive memory loss, Brand recommends these tips for staying focused:

  1. Create a daily routine
  2. Limit clutter
  3. Use simple lists and notes to stay focused and accomplish tasks
  4. Use a pocket calendar or cell phone to manage your activities
  5. Exercise regularly
  6. Schedule social interactions
  7. Stay engaged with activities that have meaning and purpose for you
  8. Manage your health well
  9. Get a good night’s sleep and maintain good spirits
  10. Develop a team of people who know what you are experiencing. Tell them you are counting on them to guide you and be by your side.

Learn more about the warning signs of dementia from Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

Alzheimers Disease and Dementia Senior Health