Forgetfulness or Early Dementia? How to Tell the Difference


Have you ever walked out of the grocery store and forgot where you parked your car? Odds are you probably have, as we are all guilty of forgetting things from time to time. In most instances, occasional forgetfulness is not cause for concern. However, as we age, there are times when forgetfulness can be a sign of an underlying issue within the brain. The following tips can help you differentiate between normal, everyday forgetfulness and early dementia.

Normal Forgetfulness

A certain degree of age-related memory loss is common. While it may be a bit frustrating, it’s rarely cause for alarm. Some typical memory issues in older adults include:

  • Forgotten Memories. According to a recent study conducted at Harvard Medical School, forgetting memories over time, something known as transience, is quite common. In fact, the act of transience may actually be a good thing. According to the study, the age-related forgetfulness is due to the brain cleaning out unused memories to make room for new ones.
  • Lack of Focus. The inability to focus and recall things may seem like early dementia, but it’s actually a normal part of thought prioritization as we age. For instance, forgetting a doctor’s appointment may seem like dementia-related absentmindedness, but it may have been forgotten simply because your senior loved one wasn’t as concerned with it as they were with something else, such as the grandkids’ dance recital or dinner with friends.
  • Depression or Anxiety. Older adults with depression or anxiety are sometimes mistaken for having early onset dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging. Someone dealing with depression may be burdened with constant worry and be unable to focus. Experiencing a recent loss or tragedy can also lead to depression or anxiety that can mimic signs of memory loss.

Possible Signs of Early Dementia

Unlike normal forgetfulness, early dementia presents itself in a steadily progressive manner, according to Dr. William W. Pendlebury, a professor at the University of Vermont. Signs of early onset dementia may include:

  • Forgetting What Was Once Unforgettable. Being unable to remember certain words, forgetting the names of family members or friends, or recalling recent events incorrectly may mean your adult loved one is experiencing more than just age-related forgetfulness. Symptoms such as these are a sign it may be time to schedule an appointment with the doctor.
  • Experiencing a Change in Personality. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one notable difference between age-related forgetfulness and early dementia is the accompaniment of major personality changes. Changes in personality that occur suddenly and include aggressiveness, paranoia, or impulsivity may be a sign of early onset dementia. It’s normal for caregivers to feel overwhelmed by these sudden changes in personality, and choosing respite care services is often a wise decision.
  • Feeling Disoriented. Another common difference between normal forgetfulness and early dementia is the tendency to become disoriented, particularly in new environments. Seniors with dementia may lose their bearings easily and become agitated, argumentative, or combative.

Grand Oaks of Jensen Beach Can Help

Age-related forgetfulness and early dementia are very different conditions, though they may share some similar symptoms. When these symptoms mean your senior loved one can no longer live on his or her own, we’re here to help.

At our state-of-the-art Memory Care Center, we offer a broad spectrum of services that are tailored to meet the unique needs of each resident. We have ADRD certified caregivers and a licensed nurse on staff 24/7. We offer delicious chef-prepared meals, a wide selection of enriching activities, socialization and companionship, and so much more.

To learn more or to schedule a tour of our community, contact Beth Kelley at 772-209-3119 or

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