When is it more than normal memory loss?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 13, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do I recognize if memory loss is normal or not?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

Some memory loss is normal for everyone from their 20s on. But serious memory problems are not an inevitable part of aging. Memory loss is problematic when it begins to affect daily life.

Here are some of the ways normal memory glitches are different from dementia:

  • Normal memory loss doesn't seem to worsen much over a few months or years; dementia does.
  • Normal memory loss means occasionally forgetting things like names and where you parked; dementia is forgetting these things routinely, as well as blanking out on whole stretches of time, such as what you did that morning or the fact that you had an appointment.
  • People with normal memory loss usually remember the fact that they forgot something; with dementia the person tends to be oblivious about having forgotten.
  • People with normal memory loss are still able to learn and retain new information; people with dementia tend not to be able to remember steps for even familiar activities (such as following a recipe or learning a new card game).
  • People with normal memory loss are often more worried about their fading memories than are people who actually are experiencing cognitive impairment.

Take this quiz to help you distinguish more about the difference between dementia and normal memory loss.