How to tell if it’s age-related memory problems or Alzheimer’s

Forgetting things can be unnerving… especially if you’re older.

It’s easy to begin second-guessing everything and wondering whether you’re simply forgetful or if something worse is happening — like Alzheimer’s.

It’s a legitimate concern. On one hand, our brains are tasked with more to process in the age of information overload — especially if you spend a lot of time tied to a computer or smartphone.

But more and more people are expected to fall victim to Alzheimer’s as we are living longer lives.

How can you tell the difference? Here are a few things to take note of…

When forgetfulness is a problem

Mild memory loss doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed for dementia. Only one percent of people over age 65 with normal age-related memory issues will end up with dementia each year.

But what you’re experiencing might be more than just age-related memory issues.

Being able to tell the difference is not only comforting, it can help you head off some more serious memory issues.

Are you’re having more and more trouble handling daily tasks because you keep forgetting things?

Are you forgetting things you only just heard? Asking the same question over and over again?

I watched this happen to a former teaching assistant of mine. As she descended into Alzheimer’s, she went from being a vibrant and dependable partner in my classroom to relying on small written notes to remember even the simplest directions I’d give her.

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If you or your family are noticing things like this happening, it’s time to talk to your doctor, who can help determine if your memory issues are consistent with the onset of dementia.

As you’ll soon see, the difference between “OK” and “not OK” often rides on how frequently the problem happens, and on whether familiar things are suddenly becoming unfamiliar.

When to get help

  1. Hard to plan or solve problems? Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, like an error in balancing your checkbook or paying the wrong amount on a bill. But if you are truly struggling to do simple tasks that used to be easy, like following directions on a familiar recipe or keeping track of your monthly bills, it could be a warning sign of more serious memory problems.
  2. Struggling with everyday tasks? Are you forgetting how to use familiar objects, like the TV remote or the microwave? Are you having trouble finding your way to the grocery store, even though you go there every day? This could also be a sign of more serious memory issues.
  3. Forgetting where you parked. We’ve all done it. But if it happens all the time, check with your doctor. It could be a warning sign of dementia.
  4. Can’t find your keys? Usually, when I misplace my keys or my eyeglasses, I can retrace my steps and locate them fairly easily. But I this kind of thing happens repeatedly and you can’t go back and find the item, that’s a common sign of bigger memory problems.
  5. Losing track of time. Most of us have woken up and thought to ourselves, “What day is it?” But we have ways of figuring it out. If you are losing track of days, seasons or the passage of time, and having difficulty “finding your way back,” it’s time to seek help.
  6. Where am I? The final straw for my dad that made him hand over his car keys was when he drove two exits from home and couldn’t remember where he was, or how to get home again. If you find yourself somewhere and can’t remember how you got there, it’s a good idea to get help.
  7. What’s the word? It’s quite common to have trouble finding the right word to say something. But people with Alzheimer’s have some serious and ongoing trouble talking and writing. Their speech may become very slow, and they may begin to struggle with naming the most familiar of objects. If this happens, it’s a sign of more serious memory loss.

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4 ways to keep your memory sharp

  1. Keep learning. Engaging in a hobby or learning a new skill can keep your memory from deteriorating. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated: do crossword or jigsaw puzzles, play an instrument, design a new garden layout, or play chess or bridge.
  2. Use all your senses. The more your senses are involved in learning something, the better you will remember it. When adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images and asked not to remember them, they later could still recall the ones that had been paired with a pleasant aroma when originally presented.
  3. Economize your brain use. Take advantage of things like calendars, planners. Designate a place in your home for your keys, glasses, etc., and always place those items there. I have found this to be an absolutely indispensable practice. If you’re not expending your mental energy to remember these things, it will be a lot easier to concentrate on new learnings and remembering new information.
  4. Believe in yourself. Don’t be influenced by the stereotypes about how older people can’t remember anything. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory.

And of course, don’t forget how important diet is to a healthy vibrant brain:

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


Is It Aging or Alzheimer’s? — Web MD

7 ways to keep your memory sharp at any age — Harvard Health Publishing / Harvard Medical School


Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.