Key Differences Between Dementia and Normal Forgetfulness

As adults, our lives are often a busy mix of family, jobs, paying bills, running errands, and trying to fit in time for some relaxation and enjoyment. Day to day we are constantly exposed to huge amounts of information — it comes to us on the television, our phones, tablets, computers, and endless sources. Life is more fast-paced than ever and it’s no wonder that we have to go great lengths not to forget things. We use reminders, from phone and tech to trusty paper sticky-notes. Still, we’re bound to forget things on occasion.

Forgetting an occasional date or word is bound to happen. Especially as we age and our bodies and brains age along with us, some amount of forgetfulness is common and expected. However, there is a difference between common forgetfulness and memory loss that may point to more severe issues, like dementia.

What’s normal?

Harvard Medical School recognizes several types of forgetfulness that are perfectly normal. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t annoying or frustrating, just that they are common and simply related to age. One of these common memory problems is “transience”. This is the concept that memories are often lost over time. It means that if you don’t recall and use a memory or fact regularly, it is likely to be forgotten after a length of time.

A common memory issue that people often experience and think is a sign of dementia, but is perfectly normal, is absentmindedness. Perhaps you forget an appointment or can’t remember where you set your phone or your keys. While it’s frustrating, it usually just means that you didn’t pay close enough attention at the time. Perhaps you were distracted or busy and just didn’t make a note of it in your memory.

Memory blocks or “blocking” becomes more common as people age. Perhaps you can’t remember a person’s name that you are sure you know, or can’t remember a particular word that you need for a situation. This is blocking and fortunately, with a bit of patience and focus those memories will often come.

“Misattribution”, or forgetting small details about a particular memory, increases with age for a couple of reasons. Perhaps most simply, our memories age as we do. Because of this, we aren’t able to recall the smaller details of older memories that may have faded over time. In addition, our aging brains simply don’t absorb details when we hear/see/read them, so we can’t recall them or recall them incorrectly later on.

Signs of Dementia

The signs of dementia may appear similar to normal forgetfulness. Because they are often more pronounced or severe than what is considered to be a common part of aging, they may not be noticeable at first. They are also progressive, worsening over time. It is important to be aware of these changes so that the person experiencing them can obtain the help and assistance they may need.

General forgetfulness is normal, but extreme forgetfulness may be a sign of dementia. It’s not just forgetting a name or where you placed your keys. A person experiencing extreme forgetfulness will forget important things like names of close friends and family or not being able to recall certain words even after a period of time.

Personality changes and disorientation are also signs of dementia. An older person experiencing dementia could exhibit sudden aggression or impulsiveness that may not have been a normal part of their personality. Sometimes, these personality changes are triggered by disorientation that occurs with new environments. Going to an unfamiliar place can lead them to feel lost or unsettled, causing the difficult personality changes.

It is important to know the difference between normal forgetfulness and the signs of dementia so that a person who is struggling with memory loss can get the compassion and help that they need. The Manors provides specialized that memory care that provides safety, assistance, and encouragement for comfort, health, and happiness.