What’s The Difference Between Forgetfulness And Alzheimer’s?

When you are young, you probably don’t stress too much about sometimes forgetting where you placed your phone or keys or the name of someone you just met. But as you age, forgetfulness can become a more serious issue.

“Why can’t I remember things like I used to? Is this normal aging, or could it be something more serious, like Alzheimer’s disease?”

It’s normal to experience some memory problems as you age. But how can you tell the difference between normal forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s disease?

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

In the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people may experience symptoms such as:

  • loss of concentration
  • significant memory issues
  • disorientation
  • mood and personality changes
  • irritability
  • depression

As the disease progresses, these symptoms will cause more and more problems in their daily life. Then, Alzheimer’s tends to develop to include symptoms such as:

  • increased memory loss
  • difficulty recognizing friends and family
  • impulsive behavior
  • difficulty reading, writing, and speaking

In the later, more severe stages of the disease progression, as the brain continues to atrophy and deteriorate, Alzheimer’s patients may experience:

  • inability to recognize loved ones
  • inability to move and speak
  • difficulties swallowing and urinating

People living with Alzheimer’s disease typically live for 8-10 years after their diagnosis—sometimes less, sometimes more.

What Is Normal Age-Related Forgetfulness?

Perhaps the most significant key difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s disease is that the former generally doesn’t interfere with your daily life.

Forgetfulness caused by normal aging usually looks like this:

  • occasionally forgetting where you’ve put things, like your keys
  • asking people to repeat themselves more often
  • taking longer to learn new information
  • forgetting new people’s names or faces
  • calling someone the wrong name
  • misremembering something that happened a long time ago
  • struggling to find the word you want to use when speaking

While these issues may cause some embarrassment, they don’t tend to cause major problems in your daily life. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive impairment would prevent you from meeting your responsibilities and interfere with your ability to care for yourself.

When To See A Doctor

If your forgetfulness is affecting your life significantly—for example, if you do not remember to pay your bills, take your medications, or show up for appointments—it’s time to see a doctor.

You should also see a doctor if your forgetfulness is accompanied by any of the following:

  • trouble concentrating or focusing
  • mood changes
  • personality changes
  • disorientation or confusion
  • difficulties with reading, writing or speaking
  • dramatic or sudden changes in cognitive ability
  • inability to complete familiar tasks
  • Withdrawal from social activities

Tell your doctor if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these issues or if you have a history of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia in your family. As you approach the age of 65, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease begins to increase, so be proactive about your cognitive health and get checked up.

Your doctor can perform cognitive testing and may recommend a brain scan or other imaging to rule out Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions.