Is it the forgetfulness of typical aging or is it dementia?

Dementia can be a scary diagnosis. If you are a baby boomer, you may have already experienced this as a caregiver to a parent or other loved one. Memory lapses can leave you questioning if it is just simply not remembering where you left your phone or whether there is something more going on with your brain. We spoke with Cassie White, PsyD, neuropsychologist at HonorHealth Neurology, to understand what is normal aging and what could be a sign of dementia.

Some forgetfulness is part of aging

“Normal aging can lead to occasional forgetfulness, just like stress or a bad night’s sleep,”explains Dr. White. “Your brain isn’t floating around in the fountain of youth; it ages, too! It is normal to walk out of the mall and forget where you parked your car. Forgetting how you got to the mall, that is not normal.”

Forgetfulness or other cognitive issues, beyond what would be expected with age, could be an early sign of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment. Individuals with this condition are able to manage their day-to-day tasks, but may need to devote more energy to doing so, or use coping strategies such as using sticky notes as reminders. If these cognitive impairments lead to needing assistance to perform daily tasks, it will then become a dementia diagnosis.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a decline in mental function that is significant enough to interfere with daily activities such as paying your bills or driving. Changes can include memory loss, impaired reasoning, disorientation, difficulties speaking, mood change and even changes in your personality. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, there can be other causes. Some of these causes are reversible, including vitamin deficiency and depression.

Is it the forgetfulness of typical aging or is it dementia?

“If you are concerned about your memory, and you make lists and use calendars to help you remember things you are worried you will forget, that is a good sign because it means those planning and critical thinking skills are still in play,” shares Dr. White.

Worried about your or a loved one’s memory?

Make an appointment to see your primary care provider and ask for a brief cognitive assessment. Based on your results, your doctor will assess need for a follow-up appointment with a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

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