Is it Alzheimer’s disease or normal aging?

There are some ways to help tell the difference1,2

Some memory loss and a decrease in thinking skills are a normal part of aging. So how can you tell the difference between normal memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease? Here are some early warning signs that the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that you can look for:

  • Changes in a loved one’s ability to plan, solve problems, or complete tasks – Making a numerical mistake every now and then while paying bills is probably a normal part of aging. Not being able to keep track of the household bills from month to month, remember how to play a favorite game, or prepare a meal with a recipe that has been used many times before could be warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Other signs to look for are difficulty concentrating, having to spend a lot more time accomplishing tasks, or trouble driving to familiar places
  • Forgetting times or places – Thinking it is Monday when it is Tuesday and then quickly remembering it is Tuesday is probably a normal sign of aging. If your loved one completely forgets that it is fall instead of summer, or what year it is, it might be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Another cause for concern is if you are in the grocery store and your loved one does not know where he or she is or how he or she got to the store
  • Calling things by the wrong name or struggling to find the right words – Occasionally having difficulty finding the right word is probably a normal sign of aging. Calling the TV remote a hand changer, however, could be a warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, not being able to follow or engage in a conversation, or suddenly stopping in the middle of a discussion and not being able to find the words to continue are warning signs
  • Loss of good judgment or poor judgment – An occasional bad decision is probably nothing to be alarmed about. Giving away large sums of money to strangers or continually making poor financial decisions is something to pay attention to
  • Social withdrawal – Turning down social invitations once in a while is likely to be a normal sign of tiredness with aging. If withdrawing from favorite activities, work, or other social gatherings continues or increases, it may be cause for concern. Another warning sign is forgetting how to do a favorite activity or difficulty remembering the name of a favorite singer or sports team
  • Negative changes in mood and personality – Being “set in one’s ways” or getting cranky when a normal routine is changed can be attributed to a normal sign of aging. Changes to look for include whether your loved one suddenly becomes confused or suspicious of others at work, in your neighborhood, or at home. Other warning signs include if your loved one exhibits changes in behavior, such as becoming fearful, anxious, or depressed
  • Misplacing items and not being able to retrace the steps to find them – Leaving keys in the bedroom, but being able to retrace your steps to find them may be a normal sign of aging. You may have cause for concern for possible Alzheimer’s disease, however, if your loved one cannot retrace his or her steps, places keys somewhere that is not logical (like the freezer), or accuses someone of stealing the keys

If you have noticed that your loved one is exhibiting these warning signs, talk to his or her doctor. Only a doctor can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Share this article:

About Good Thinking

Good Thinking is for caregivers like you, supporting you as you face the daily challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. We’re here to provide information and inspiration to help you take care of yourself and enhance the care you give every day.