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What’s the Difference between Normal Aging and Dementia?

by Ambra Giuliano


We all know that many things change as we age. When we’re young, we don’t tend to pay much attention in case we misplace our keys or forget a phone number, but as we grow older, sometimes we worry about the real meaning of these lapses. We need to remember thatmemory loss is not an inevitable part of the ageing process, and it’s important to know the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and the symptoms that may indicate a developing cognitive problem.





In normal aging, our bodies and brains slow down, and it is completely normal. Our intelligence, though, remains stable. We are less physically and mentally flexible, and we take more time to process information. Memory changes occur as well, and it’s common to have greater difficulty remembering names of people, places and other things as we age. Memory lapses can be frustrating, but most of the time they aren’t cause for concern. Age-related memory changes are not the same thing as dementia.

​Is memory loss normal?


Is memory loss normal? For most people, occasional lapses in memory are a normal part of the aging process, not a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia. The following types of memory lapses are normal among older adults and generally are not considered warning signs of dementia:

  • Occasionally forgetting where you left things you use regularly, such as glasses or keys.

  • Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as calling a grandson by your son’s name.

  • Occasionally forgetting an appointment.

  • Having trouble remembering what you’ve just read, or the details of a conversation.

  • Walking into a room and forgetting why you entered.

  • Becoming easily distracted.

  • Not quite being able to retrieve information you have “on the tip of your tongue.”

Whatever your age, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter. When memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts your work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, you may be experiencing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or another disorder that causes dementia, or a condition that mimics dementia. Dementia is not a disease. It is a general term that describes a set of symptoms that may be caused by a number of different brain disorders. 

​How can I tell if my memory problems are serious?


It might be a warning sign if you notice you have trouble remembering how to do things you've done many times before, getting to a place you've been too often, or doing things that use steps, like following a recipe. The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling. The memory lapses have little impact on your daily performance and ability to do what you want to do. Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is that normal memory loss doesn't get much worse over time. Dementia gets much worse over several months to several years. To find out more about the most common signs that might be symptoms of dementia, you can read our previous blog post 10 early signs of dementia. It may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem. Talk to your family doctor about any concerns you have, and remember there’s always someone ready to support you.

References Memory Loss with Aging: What's normal, what's not?, Dementia, http://www.dementia.com/memory-loss.htmlAge-Related Memory Loss, HelpGuide.org, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/memory/age-related-memory-loss.htm

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