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Memory and Forgetfulness: The Difference Between Normal Aging and Dementia

Memory lapses are a normal part of aging, and most people will experience some changes in memory and cognition as they get older, such as forgetting someone’s name or an important occasion.

Just because your mother is experiencing problems with her memory does not mean she will develop dementia in the future. In fact, only 5% to 8% of people over the age of 60 live with dementia. So, what is considered “normal” aging? How can you tell when regular age-associated memory impairment is developing into something more serious?

Normal Aging and Forgetfulness

As your parents age, their memory can slowly fail them. As long as their lapse in memory does not noticeably disrupt their daily life, affect their ability to complete activities of daily living, or prevent them from learning and remembering new things, it sounds like their memory is aging at a normal pace.

There are plenty of coping strategies that can help aging loved ones deal with symptoms of age-associated memory impairment:

• Getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

• Following a healthy diet and exercise routine.

• Reducing alcohol intake.

• Staying involved in activities that involve both the mind and body, like knitting or volunteering in their local community.

• Following a daily routine.

• Choosing a specific place to drop the keys, wallet, and other things that are regularly forgotten about.

• Making to-do lists and using memory aids like calendars and notes.


Mild Cognitive Impairment

If your aging loved one’s memory starts to slip more frequently and it looks like they are exhibiting signs of dementia, talk to their doctor about testing for Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that can cause memory loss.  If the results from those tests are inconclusive, consider further evaluation by a neurologist who specializes in diagnosing a condition called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Symptoms of MCI include memory loss and other associated problems such as difficulty speaking and disorientation, but they are not severe enough to interfere with your parents’ everyday activities. MCI is often looked at as an intermittent stage between age-associated memory impairment and dementia.

Though MCI can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other cognitive disorders, not everyone with MCI will go on to get diagnosed with more severe cognitive disorders. However, it’s important to schedule regular appointments with a doctor to monitor the progress of your parents’ symptoms.


Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities. Dementia is not a part of normal aging.

Consult a doctor if your loved one is:

• unable to recollect the names of, or recognize, close family members and friends

• struggling to recall details of recent events and conversations

• finding it difficult to carry out daily tasks they were once familiar with

These are all signs of dementia and indicate the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other similar health problems.

If you’re noticing signs of memory loss in a loved one, it can be difficult to know if it’s normal or not. If you’re concerned about your parents’ memory problems, it’s best to consult a doctor to help identify the cause of the memory impairment and discover the best treatment options.

If you’re looking for more resources to help take care of a family member with memory-related problems, call Oasis Senior Advisors at 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901, or fill out this online form.

Oasis Senior Advisors


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Paul and Susan Doyle

Certified Senior Advisor®

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