Many of us experience memory loss as we age. We may find ourselves wandering into rooms and forgetting what we went in for, or misplacing our glasses, a remote control, or a set of keys more often.
But how do you know if the memory loss you are experiencing is typical of aging, or a sign of something more serious, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related cognitive disorders?
Is Age-Related Memory Loss Normal?
According to the CDC, 1 in 9 adults over age 45 report having memory issues. While memory complaints can be a symptom of early-stage dementia, only about half of those who report these issues will go on to develop more severe cognitive decline. When there is no medical issue behind it, this is referred to as “age-associated memory impairment,” a normal result of aging.
On the other hand, brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are something quite different.
Signs of Memory Loss Versus Signs of Dementia
While forgetfulness may be unsettling or frustrating, it isn’t necessarily a sign of dementia. A key difference between normal age-related memory loss and dementia is the severity and frequency of the symptoms, as in the examples below:
- Normal aging is not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago.
- Dementia is not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations.
- Normal aging is not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance.
- Dementia is not recognizing or knowing the names of close family members.
- Normal aging means occasionally having trouble finding words.
- Dementia can mean frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words.
- Normal aging is worrying about your memory, even if your relatives are not.
- Dementia is when your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems.
So, if you’ve been struggling a bit to remember simple things, don’t jump to conclusions. Your concerns may just be a normal part of aging, not a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, it’s important to recognize that a true diagnosis can only be made by a physician, and if you have concerns, it’s best to discuss them with a qualified professional.
Tips to Sharpen Your Memory
Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic that may help mitigate memory loss and even improve your memory over time:
Keep activities, events, to-dos, and reminders in a planner or on your phone. If you know you’ll need to do or remember something later, write it down right away - it’s easier to look back at your notes than try to recall what it was.
Try new experiences.
Your brain likes to be challenged and soak in new things. Research shows it can even help your brain repair itself and build new connections at any age. To that end, don’t be afraid to shake up your routine a bit and learn new things!
Spend quality time with others.
Staying social is good for both your emotional and mental health. Having dinner with family or friends, joining a book club or choir group, or just talking on the phone can all help.
Get a full night’s sleep.
Getting quality sleep is critical for all aspects of your well-being, even memory (as anyone who’s gone to work after a sleepless night can attest). Setting a regular bedtime, limiting distractions and bright lights, and keeping your room cool can help you drift off more easily.
Stay physically active.
Research shows that exercise changes the brain in a good way, and challenging your body also challenges your mind. Taking walks, stretching, or joining a fitness group are good ways to keep moving. As with any fitness routine, talk to your doctor before beginning.
Eat a healthy diet.
There’s a reason people call some foods “brain food” - they’ve been linked to a healthier mind in addition to being good for your body. Leafy greens like spinach, oily fish like salmon, and antioxidant-rich fruits like blueberries can all be healthy (and delicious) additions to your diet.
More About Memory Loss Versus Dementia
If you’re truly concerned about your memory loss, you should always consult a physician. But remember: It’s perfectly normal for everyone’s memory to slip a bit as we age. Explore these related resources to see why delirium may not be a sign of dementia, and how to spot the signs of Alzheimer’s that aren’t related to memory.