Normal Memory Loss Versus Dementia

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January is Alzheimer’s Awareness month!  According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, Every year another 25,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia across our country. Additionally, nearly 40% of those over the age of 65 report some form of memory loss or cognitive aging.

It’s important to know the symptoms of dementia so that you can get treatment early. Many symptoms and signs associated with aging can be mistaken for dementia so the common question many people have is how to be able to tell if it’s just normal memory loss due to aging, or if it is possibly Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are medical conditions which require treatment and are different from normal memory loss or cognitive aging. Generally speaking, with dementia, the memory loss can be tied to more serious matters and be tasked based (e.g. forgetting how to do something they have been doing for years such as cook something or play an instrument).  Actions which seem rather odd also may be a sign of dementia such as coming home and putting your keys in the fridge (it has happened!).  However, since there are some other early symptoms of dementia which can be confused with normal aging, we have compiled some differences to help you determine whether or not your or your loved one’s experience might require getting checked out.


Symptoms of Normal Memory Loss and Cognitive Aging Symptoms of Dementia
Forgetting an event or conversation from months or a year ago Not being able to recall recent events or conversations
Not recalling a casual acquaintance’s name, or even forgetting their face Not recalling names of close friends or family, or not recognizing their faces
Misplacing objects occasionally Misplacing objects frequently, or putting objects in incorrect places (like placing clothes in the fridge, or kitchen items in dresser)
More trouble paying attention to stories or TV shows Unable to follow stories or TV shows
Some repetition may occur occasionally. Perhaps a question may be asked more than once, but not repeatedly Repetition: Asking the same question more than once, repeating tasks that have already been completed (like shaving), or hoarding behaviour
Losing your sense of direction in an unfamiliar place Getting lost in a familiar place
Stumbling through a new task or activity Forgetting how to complete a familiar task or activity
Though may normal memory loss may progress somewhat, it generally maintains at the same level Symptoms of dementia get worse with time
Occasionally having trouble finding the correct word Difficulty communicating or finding correct words on a frequent basis


Remember – your memory loss likely isn’t an issue if it isn’t affecting your everyday life. It’s a good idea to ask your family and close friends about how they perceive your memory loss, as those with dementia often don’t even realize they are forgetting things or slowing down. If you are concerned about your memory loss, talk to your family doctor.