If you or your loved one start forgetting things throughout the day, you might be worried about possible cognitive issues. Many people ask, is this normal aging, or should I schedule a doctor’s appointment or have a memory screening? 

Alzheimers and dementia are understandably worrisome for older adults. One person in the US develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. Worldwide, there are 10 million new cases of dementia each year, according to the World Health Organization.     

The symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are markedly different from just getting older. Read below for a list of common dementia symptoms and explanations on how they differ from ordinary aging.

Memory Issues 

Memory loss is one of the most well-known dementia symptoms. However, it is important to note that there is a significant contrast between common forgetfulness—which is a normal part of getting older—and memory loss. Refer to the infographic below from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to get a better idea of what is normal forgetfulness and what constitutes a memory issue. The NIA explains that occasionally forgetting things, like misplacing your keys once in a while, is no cause for concern. However, memory issues that disrupt your daily life, happen frequently, or are accompanied by other emotional changes, could be a more serious issue. 

Infographic on Dementia symptoms

Image source: NIA 

When in doubt, when it comes to memory concerns, you should always feel comfortable visiting your primary physician to get checked out. 

Difficulty with Planning and Problem-Solving

A person with dementia may have trouble following a plan, such as a familiar recipe or driving directions. They might also struggle with problem-solving like adding up numbers to pay bills. Aging adults may make occasional errors with finances or take a little more time to think things through. In contrast, a person developing dementia will: 

  • Make frequent errors
  • Become very confused when planning or problem-solving
  • Have increased difficulty concentrating on hard tasks

Confusion about Time and Place

Individuals with dementia often struggle with their orientation. They frequently have difficulty judging passing time and may even forget where they are. It’s not abnormal for an aging adult to be momentarily confused about the day of the week or even briefly forget why they entered a room. However, dementia can be marked by losing track of the general passage of time, such as being unsure of the date or season. Additionally, people with dementia may also experience a failing sense of direction. As a result, they have a greater chance of forgetting where they are, how they got there, or even getting lost. 

Challenges with Visual Information and Spatial Relationships

Visual information can be challenging for a person with dementia to process. Difficulty judging distances, reading, or distinguishing colors are key signs of visual impairment associated with dementia. While some vision decline, such as cataracts, occurs with normal age, significant changes could be a dementia symptom. Vision impairment that affects daily life and causes harm (example: judging distances on stairs) to the individual should be of increased concern.

Problems with Speaking and Writing

As dementia progresses, a person may have difficulty engaging in conversations. They may forget what they were saying or have difficulty with vocabulary. Occasional trouble coming up with the right word is common in typically aging adults. However, if the behavior becomes frequent and is associated with familiar objects (telephone, car, etc.), it could be a sign of dementia. Further, a person with dementia may describe a word or use substitutions for words. For example, they could describe a watch as a “hand clock” or simply call it “that thing.”

The problems with language also extend into writing. A person’s handwriting may become less legible as dementia progresses. Additionally, their spelling, grammar, and punctuation may decline. Overall, dementia can cause notable difficulty with communication.

Withdrawal from Socialization

A person developing dementia may lose interest in former hobbies or activities they enjoy. They might become withdrawn and avoid getting out of their house to socialize. Ordinary aging adults may feel uninterested in social obligations from time to time. However, an individual with dementia shows apathy and disinterest in socialization quite frequently, even after encouragement from loved ones. 

Changes in Mood or Personality

An individual living with dementia may experience mood swings or personality changes. It’s natural for people to change and slow down a bit as they age. However, a dramatic change in a person’s temperament may be a sign of dementia. He or she may become fearful, irritable, or anxious. Additionally, depression is one of the common dementia symptoms. Depression can be marked by changes in appetite, insomnia, lack of energy, and hopelessness.

When to See a Doctor about Dementia Symptoms

As you or your loved one ages, it’s vital to learn the difference between healthy aging versus concerning behaviors. A person who experiences one or more of these dementia symptoms should address their concerns with a medical professional. While there is no cure yet for dementia, early detection is essential. Your doctor can assess what type of dementia you’re facing and make the appropriate recommendations for treatments, medications, or therapies based on your condition.