Dementia vs. Ordinary Forgetfulness and Confusion

Forgetfulness is not always a sign of dementia.Mom keeps misplacing her keys and dad needs to ask you the same question three or four times before the answer seems to sink in. Is this the beginning of dementia or just a normal part of the changes that come with aging? Here are 5 signs to watch for to get a sense of whether you should be concerned.

1. Forgetfulness. We can all be forgetful from time to time, but it doesn’t mean we’re developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s normal for mom or dad to forget someone’s name if they don’t see them that often or to misplace the TV remote. The key to knowing whether or not it’s dementia is the severity. Knowing how your loved one usually acts, does the forgetfulness seem unusual? For example, few of us would forget about a conversation that happened just 15 minutes ago. Another thing to keep in mind is that those in the early stages of dementia have trouble with short-term memory. If mom can’t seem to keep new information in her head, that may be a sign.

2. Lack of focus. Does dad forget where he is or is he taking longer to do familiar tasks? That may be a sign of dementia, as is having trouble with time and place in general. Look out for confusion between the past and the present, not understanding how time is passing and being unable to explain how they got somewhere.

3. Misplacing things. Just as with being forgetful, we all sometimes put something down and then lose it. However, a person with dementia will be unable to think back through their day to where they may have lost the object. They may also put things in unusual places: for example, mom’s glasses will turn up in the microwave. Those with dementia are often convinced that they remember where they put something, and may accuse someone of moving or even stealing it.

4. Trouble with everyday tasks. Dementia can result in a person forgetting how to do familiar things. Can mom no longer make her famous lemon meringue pie? Is dad forgetting the rules to bridge? Keep an eye out for your loved one asking someone else to do favorite tasks for him or her.

5. Trouble with words. Dementia patients often cannot think of the correct word to use, even for basic objects like a pair of glasses or a watch. They may use a placeholder instead such as “thingy” or something even stranger such as calling the refrigerator the “cold closet.”

The only person who can really give you a definitive answer about whether your loved one has dementia is their doctor. Dementia patients suffer a range of symptoms, and only a trained professional can make sense of what your loved one is experiencing. So if you
suspect that dementia is the culprit behind new behaviors, talk to your parent about making an appointment together.