Age-related Memory Loss: What’s Normal? What’s Not?

In Loving Memory
Dealing with Loss
January 25, 2019
Therapy Q&A
January 30, 2019

By: Ubi Uskovich, senior living counselor, The Crossings Retirement Community

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you came for? Ever stumble when trying to remember the name or author of a book you read recently? Do these memory lapses indicate you have a memory loss problem? It depends. If you occasionally forget where you left things, or forget the names of acquaintances, don’t go rushing to the local neurologist just yet.

Memory Loss vs. Dementia:

The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is simple. One is disabling and the other is not. Forgetting where you placed your keys may make you late for an appointment—a minor problem on a single day—but forgetting to pay bills or take medicine every day can create major problems.
When memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts daily living activities, social activities, and family relationships, you may be seeing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or other disorders that can cause dementia.


The early symptoms that indicate a more severe form of memory loss often goes unnoticed by loved ones. The loss of memory typically begins several months, or even years, before it becomes a disabling decline. Changes can include subtle shifts in personality, such as increased or unusual irritability. Other changes can include getting lost or disoriented in familiar places, or a growing inability to follow directions. Words may be forgotten, misused, or garbled. Loved ones may begin hearing the same phrases and stories in the same conversation, or the repetition of a question answered only moments before.

As the loss progresses, you may have difficulty making decisions, begin showing poor judgment and acting in socially inappropriate ways. Loved ones may begin to see reminder notes littering the house, or stacks of unopened mail, or increasingly poor hygiene and housekeeping.

The course of memory loss is hard to recognize and even harder to predict, and caring for someone with memory loss impacts every aspect of a caregiver’s life. As the loved one loses one ability after another, a caregiver faces tests of stamina, problem-solving and resiliency. Maintaining emotional and physical fitness is crucial, not just for the caregiver, but for the person being cared for.

Experts advise caregivers to be willing to ask for help. Whether it’s respite care, home care, placement in a care center, or just asking a friend or family member to take over for one hour, it’s vital to take regular breaks from caregiving.
If you or a loved one feels that memory loss is or has become a problem, make a point to investigate the caregiving resources in your area. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step to dealing with the consequences of memory loss.

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