Here's How To Tell Regular Old-Age Memory Loss From Dementia

There are a few ways to tell one from the other.
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Alzheimer’s Society predicts that there will be over two million people with dementia in the UK in 2051.

The condition, which is often undiagnosed for too long due to stigma and misdiagnoses, is more manageable if spotted early. So, if you suspect the condition, it’s worth speaking to your doctor.

But say you or a loved one have been forgetful all your life and are now unsure whether the odd misplaced keys are a sign of the condition. How can you tell dementia from regular ageing?

Luckily, organisations like Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Society have handy tools that may help you to tell the two apart.

Severity matters

Alzheimer’s Society points out that some changes to a person’s mental ability are normal as they age. But for those with dementia, “this worsening in mental abilities is much more serious.”

To be diagnosed with dementia, they say, the condition must affect a person’s day-to-day life. “This means having difficulties with completing daily tasks about the house, in the community or at work.”

In an image that you can save to your computer if you like, the National Institute for Health lists examples of the difference between regular memory loss and dementia ― for instance, age-related forgetfulness might lead to making a bad decision every once in a while.

Dementia on the other hand leads to regular poor judgement.

  • missing one monthly payment (possibly regular ageing) versus problems paying many bills;
  • forgetting which day of the week it is, then remembering (regular ageing) versus losing track of the date or time of year;
  • sometimes forgetting which word to use (which can be normal) versus failure to have a conversation,
  • occasionally losing things like keys (which can be normal) versus always losing things and being unable to find them.

How can I tell how much it’s affecting a person’s life?

You might wonder how you can tell how much memory loss is affecting someone’s life. Thankfully Alzheimer’s Society of Canada (ASC) has given us guidelines.

If memory issues aren’t significantly impacting your daily routines, don’t affect how you can complete tasks, aren’t affecting your ability to learn new things, and there’s no apparent medical cause, you likely don’t have to worry about them, ASC says.

However, if memory problems are making it difficult to complete familiar tasks or learn new things and others around you are also noticing changes in your abilities, then it’s important to address the issue, they say.

“However, the only way to know for sure if you have dementia is to talk to your doctor and get tested,” ASC stresses.

Speak to your doctor if you’re worried about yourself or a loved one.