Worried about someone’s memory or cognitive function?
Don’t jump to any conclusions yet. There are big differences between the normal forgetfulness that comes with age and the warning signs of cognitive impairment.
Plus, there are many common and treatable health conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms.
So how do you know if the behavior you’re noticing in your older adult is normal or if they need to be evaluated by a doctor?
We found a helpful explanation of 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association.
From this list, we highlight the key differences between normal aging behavior and possible early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia in 5 real-life situations.
Signs of Alzheimer’s vs normal aging in 5 everyday situations
It turns out that everyone loses some memory-making and cognitive abilities as they age. The decline starts by age 40 and keeps going.
So, occasional forgetfulness (Where did I leave my keys? What did I come here to get?) probably isn’t something to worry about.
But there are signs that the behavior you’re observing could be outside the norm. Here’s how that might look in 5 everyday situations:
1. Everyday tasks like using the TV remote or microwave oven
Normal aging: Needing help or reminders once in a while
Signs of Alzheimer’s: Trouble with familiar or daily tasks like getting lost driving to a local store they’ve shopped for 10 years, forgetting how to make a favorite recipe they’ve cooked for decades, or not understanding how to play a card game they play regularly.
2. Multi-step or complex tasks like paying bills or cooking a meal
Normal aging: Making mistakes once in a while when balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal (Oops, forgot the paprika!).
Signs of Alzheimer’s: Difficulty planning, problem solving, or sequencing steps, like trouble following a familiar recipe or not being able to keep track of monthly bills.
3. Keeping track of time
Normal aging: Sometimes getting temporarily confused about the day of the week, then figuring it out later. (Is today Tuesday or Wednesday? Oh that’s right, it’s Wednesday.)
Signs of Alzheimer’s: Having trouble tracking dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Sometimes forgetting where they are or how they got there.
4. Judgement and decision-making
Normal aging: Once in a while using poor judgment or making bad decisions like drinking too much at a big party or spending too much money on something frivolous.
Signs of Alzheimer’s: Frequently uses bad judgment or makes unwise decisions like giving large amounts of money to telemarketers or scammers, buying tons of unnecessary stuff from online shopping channels, or paying less attention than normal to personal hygiene – like wearing the same clothes, refusing to bathe, etc.
5. Personality changes
Normal aging: Getting annoyed or irritated when a long-held habit or routine is disrupted.
Signs of Alzheimer’s: Noticeable changes in mood or personality like getting confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. Or, being easily upset at home, at work, with friends, or in places where they’re out of their comfort zone.
If you notice significant, serious, or sudden behavior changes in your older adult, schedule a checkup with their doctor right away.
If these changes are caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia, early detection and treatment could help reduce and manage symptoms – allowing them to stay independent longer.