Recognizing Dementia: When Is It More Than Just Forgetfulness?

Posted By on December 22, 2020

Everyone has had a lapse in memory at some point. We’ve all forgotten the name of that great movie we watched last weekend, blanked on someone’s name, or couldn’t think of the word that’s right on the tip of our tongue. When we are younger, we tend not to think anything of these “brain fogs,” brushing them off as mere absentmindedness. As we get older, though, these momentary lapses of memory become more concerning.

When older adults experience these moments of forgetfulness, many think it’s the first sign of cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. While these memory lapses can be frustrating and concerning, the truth is that forgetfulness is simply an ordinary part of aging. Just like other parts of the body, the brain naturally loses some of its sharpness with age. In most cases, age-related memory problems are not serious or a cause for concern. How do you know when it is, though? How do you tell the difference between normal forgetfulness and something more serious, like dementia? 

Harborchase Senior Living, offering dementia and memory care programs throughout the United States, is sharing some helpful guidelines to compare the differences between age-related memory problems and more major memory concerns like dementia. 

Please note that this article is not meant to diagnose but to help understand and navigate memory loss.

Misplacing Items

Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent occasionally misplaces their keys, the remote, or their glasses. After looking in common places and retracing their steps, they are able to find them fairly quickly. 

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent more than regularly misplaces everyday items like the phone or their shoes. They sometimes put things where they don’t belong, like the bathroom cabinet or the refrigerator. 

Confusing Names and Dates

Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent or family member may forget or confuse people’s names and recent events (such as calling their grandchild by their older sibling’s name or wanting to go to a restaurant that recently closed). They may also forget what day it is but remember it later. 

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent or family member may forget the names of people they see every day, significantly confuse dates and events (like asking their grown daughter how the prom was), or forget recent events, like friends who visited just yesterday. They may also completely lose track of the day or even year. 

Focus and Tasks

Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent will accidentally miss a monthly payment or forget they have a doctor’s appointment. They may begin to have more trouble focusing on multiple tasks at once. 

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent has significant problems keeping track of monthly bills, finances, and appointments. They may begin to have trouble concentrating on a single task at one time. 

Holding a Conversation

Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent or family member may have difficulty finding the right word or ask the same question every once in a while, but typically doesn’t have any issues maintaining a conversation. 

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent or family member has significant trouble following or holding a conversation. They struggle to keep up with what someone is saying and may mention the same thing repeatedly. 

Awareness and Orientation

Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent may have a momentary brain lapse and forget why they came into a room, but will eventually remember. 

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent or family member will easily get disoriented or unsure of where they are. They may even get lost in familiar places. 


Normal Age-Related Change: Your parent may become frustrated when they can’t remember something, but overall their behavior is stable and reflects their usual personality.

Possible Sign of Dementia: Your parent may become easily frustrated or angry and even lash out when they are confused or overstimulated. Their personality may change, and they may act in ways that are different from what you’re used to. 

What You Can Do

While it can be alarming when your parent starts to show signs of memory loss, it’s typically nothing to distress over. Aged-related forgetfulness is entirely normal and can even be slowed down with the right habits. If you notice your parent is showing signs of typical memory loss, ensure that they are eating a healthy diet, staying physically active and social, and regularly doing brain games or puzzles to keep their mind sharp. 

Alternatively, if you notice that your parent is exhibiting signs of more significant memory loss problems, it could indicate the development of dementia or another more significant memory concern. If this is the case, the first step is to speak to a healthcare provider to share your concerns. 

If your parent or family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, consider your care options, including dementia care programs. These programs and memory care neighborhoods, like those offered at HarborChase, provide a safe and engaging environment for individuals living with memory impairments. Through daily activities, professional care, and a home-like setting, memory care communities can help individuals succeed and thrive. 

HarborChase Senior Living offers a full spectrum of memory care services—from support with mild or temporary memory loss to the management of Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a family member displaying signs of significant memory loss and think that a dementia care community could be beneficial, we invite you to contact our team for more information.