Is forgetfulness normal?

How to tell what are normal signs of aging and what are signs of dementia
Sep 4, 2018 ·
Elderly woman keeping her body healthy by walking among trees on a sunny day

When you’re young and forgetful, it may be called “spacing out” or being an “airhead.” When you’re older, it can mean something else. As we age, it’s important to know the difference between what’s normal and what could be a sign of something more serious.

As our bodies age, our minds do, too. And when you reach a certain age and forget where you put something or can’t remember someone’s name – things that happen to all of us from time to time – it can be quite worrisome. In fact, developing Alzheimer’s disease is a widespread fear among older adults.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and functioning

Sometimes we're our own best judges of how we are doing. In fact, being self-aware and paying attention to any changes are the keys to maintaining health. Ask yourself how you feel. If something feels “off,” unusual, or suddenly different, you should call your doctor right away. Keep in mind that depression that comes on for the first time late in life may be a sign that memory loss or dementia could be an issue down the road.

Be aware of your routine. Has it changed recently? Memory loss that disrupts your life can be one of the first and most recognizable signs of dementia. If household tasks such as cooking and paying bills suddenly become difficult or overwhelming, contact your doctor.

Consider your age

Different stages occur at different ages. Normal physical changes can happen in your brain beginning at age 50. Then, when you hit 60, you may notice you’re slower at remembering things. Keep in mind this is just a natural part of aging and nothing to be overly concerned about.

Life changes make a difference

Losing a spouse and lacking social contacts are things that happen more often among older people. These big changes can bring about anxiety, stress, and even depression. When suffering from these conditions, you may temporarily become more forgetful than usual, and this can be mistaken for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, if these symptoms persist, talk to a doctor to see if it’s just related to your circumstances, or something more permanent.

Keep learning

We’ve all heard the term “brain twister” to explain problems that are hard to figure out. These head-scratchers can act as exercise for your brain, keeping it strong and resilient. For instance, foreign language lessons or learning to play a new instrument may prevent memory loss and the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

While you may advise your grandchildren to stop playing video games, the truth is they may be quite good for older adults. New research suggests games that require problem-solving and other complex tasks may help you remember things like where you put your keys or the name of a casual acquaintance.

Be heart healthy

There’s a real link between your heart and your head. So, it’s important not to skip your regular checkup appointments. People who are at risk for heart problems with conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol are also at greater risk for dementia. 

Consult with others

Noticing changes as we get older is a normal part of life. Sometimes, it helps to know that others in your age group are going through the same things. But make sure you reach out to your doctor, family members, or other people you trust if you feel you are experiencing memory loss. 

For more information, go to “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s” on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

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