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Is It More Than Just Forgetfulness?

How do you know if your parent's struggles are normal or the signs of something more? Learn how to tell the difference and memory care options available.

“Dad’s been more forgetful lately – things like not remembering where he put his mail and having trouble recalling the neighbor’s name. He jokes about having ‘senior moments,’ but I’m starting to wonder if it’s a normal part of aging or if it’s something more serious, like Alzheimer’s.”

Everyone has occasional trouble recalling the right word or sometimes makes a bad decision. But how do you know if your parent’s struggles are normal or the signs of something more? And what should you do if you think your parent has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

How to Tell the Difference Between Age-Related Memory Loss and Dementia

So what’s considered a normal age-related change and what could be a sign of some form of dementia? Pay attention to these 10 aspects of your parent’s daily life.


Normal: Occasionally forgetting appointments or names but remembering them later.
Warning signs: More serious memory loss that disrupts daily life, including forgetting things they recently learned, asking for the same information repeatedly, forgetting important dates or events, or relying more heavily on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle themselves.

Planning & Problem-solving

Normal: Occasional mistakes handling finances, such as when they balance their checkbook or miss a monthly payment.
Warning signs: Losing track of monthly bills, having a harder time concentrating or making and following a plan, taking much longer to do things than they did before, or having more difficulty working with numbers.

Familiar Tasks

Normal: Sometimes needing help using the settings on a microwave or recording a TV show.
Warning signs: Difficulty completing familiar tasks such as making a sandwich or changing the channel, trouble driving to a familiar location, can’t remember the rules of a favorite game, and/or new difficulties managing a budget.

Time & Place

Normal: Forgetting which day of the week it is but remembering later.
Warning signs: Losing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time; forgetting where they are or how they got there; trouble understanding something not happening right now.

Spatial Relationships & Visual Images

Normal: Age-related vision changes related to cataracts.
Warning signs: Difficulty judging distances, determining color or contrast, or reading.

Speaking or Writing

Normal: Occasionally struggling to find the right word.
Warning signs: Trouble participating in a conversation, such as repeating themselves, or stopping in the middle and not knowing how to continue. Calling things by the wrong name or more frequent problems finding the right words.

Misplacing Items & Retracing Steps

Normal: Occasionally misplacing an item but able to retrace their steps to find it.
Warning signs: Putting things in unusual places (i.e., the TV remote in the freezer); losing things and not being able to retrace steps to find them; accusing others of stealing items they’ve misplaced.

Decision-making & Judgment

Normal: Making a bad decision now and then.
Warning signs: Changes in judgment about money (i.e., going on buying sprees or giving large amounts of money to telemarketers). They may also pay less attention to grooming and keeping clean.

Work or Social Activities

Normal: Sometimes feeling weary of family, work or social obligations.
Warning signs: Withdrawing from hobbies, social activities or projects; having trouble keeping up with their favorite team or remembering how to work on their hobby. They may avoid socializing with friends and family.

Mood & Personality

Normal: Developing a specific routine and getting irritable if it’s interrupted.
Warning signs: Personality changes, including becoming confused, suspicious, fearful, anxious or depressed; also, getting easily upset and lashing out.

It May Not Be What You Think

If you see any of the warning signs listed, schedule an appointment with their doctor. Be aware that other conditions can cause memory problems that look like dementia:

  • Head injury
  • Medication side effects
  • Too much alcohol
  • Tumors, blood clots or brain infections
  • Thyroid, kidney or liver disorders
  • Emotional issues like depression, stress or anxiety

Early detection of a physical or emotional issue, as well as Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, can help your family make the most of available interventions and give you more time to plan for appropriate care.

Memory Care Options

If your parent is diagnosed with some form of memory disorder or dementia, you have options to get them the care they need. Explore memory care choices, and learn more about transitioning to memory care. You can also find a memory care community near you with the community locator tool.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer’s Association