The Difference Between Aging and Forgetfulness: The Early Signs of Dementia

Sep 24, 2021 | Signs, Symptoms and Science of Dementia

I was looking for my phone. Why was I looking for something that I had in my hand?

Earlier today, I intended to put a bag of ice into the freezer. I caught myself opening a kitchen cabinet up to put it away.

What is wrong with me?

Is it age? Is it dementia? Or is it forgetfulness?

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a symptom of aging. Dementia is a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain caused by different diseases. There are many types of dementia, but the most common and well-known form is Alzheimer’s disease.

Aging is the biggest risk factor for dementia.

Dementia is more common in people over the age of 65. Based on studies, the estimated age of dementia onset in the United States is 83.7 years old.

Even with aging being the leading risk factor for dementia, the typical forgetfulness that people experience as they age looks different when compared to the early signs of dementia.

Early Signs of Dementia

The symptoms of dementia vary with the many types of dementia. The early markers of dementia, however, are common in most people before a diagnosis of dementia.

The common early signs of dementia include difficulties with:


Forgetting dates, events, or recalling recent information

Completing Familiar Tasks

Loss of concentration or the ability to follow a plan, especially when completing common tasks such as following a recipe or keeping track of household necessities and bills


Challenges with vocabulary and the ability to name familiar objects or people


Prominently losing track of time or place, getting lost, forgetting where they are or how they got there, being unable to retrace steps, and misplacing objects

Mood Changes

Personality changes that include confusion, suspicion, depression, fear, anxiety, and social withdrawal

Visual Changes

Problems with judging distance, color, or contrast, which may induce balance difficulties

Each of the early signs of dementia can occur subtly but most will gradually worsen.

It can feel alarming when we or someone that we love are aging, and we notice moments of forgetfulness, especially when it seems to happen more frequently than it once did. A person with dementia may feel confused more often. They may notice that their memory loss is worsening. As dementia progresses, however, they may not realize that they are experiencing symptoms. They lose awareness of the symptoms.

When we catch ourselves or someone who is aging in a moment of forgetfulness it does not typically interrupt the ability to function in daily life, as does dementia.

We may feel stunned in the very moment, “How could I have forgotten that?”, but when we can problem-solve, remember dates and events, have conversations, keep track of time and place, without any significant mood, visual, or conversational changes, we are often simply experiencing aging, and more often, distraction due to busyness.

Busyness, trying to do too much at one time, or working too much, can lead to disconnection from routines, family, friends, or daily activities, and cause us to feel stressed, anxious, and forgetful!

We do things like lose our keys or look for a phone that is already in our hands.

These are normal human responses to multi-tasking, busyness, and even burnout (from day after day of busyness).

Improving Forgetfulness

Unlike dementia, with symptoms that can be medically treated, and a condition that will worsen, forgetfulness is something that can be improved – even when it is caused by aging.

Here are some simple measures that you or your loved one can take to improve forgetfulness:

Decrease Stress

Take a close look at your daily life. Are there particular things adding to increased stress in your life?

Make a list of whatever stresses you and determine what you can improve or eliminate from your life. Stress affects our mental and physical well-being.

It can interrupt our sleep. It can disrupt our bodily functions and cause headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension and pain, poor glucose response, and increase our blood pressure and heart rate.

Partake in Self-Care

Are you taking care of yourself? Are you ensuring that you eat well, sleep well and that you are taking care of your own needs?

Are you including things in your life that bring joy to your heart? Are you caring for others, perhaps a dementia patient, and forgetting to take care of yourself?

Remember, caregiver, and even if you are not one, Care for You First.

Practice Mindfulness

Slow down and focus. We weren’t designed to be multi-taskers.

It is important to our overall well-being to live in the moment and to focus on one thing at a time. This may mean that you say no to requests from others.

You may also turn off notifications on your phone or computer. Find a quiet place to do your most important work without interruptions. Plan your day and prioritize.

Keep your list of to-dos small and manageable. Focus on doing your very best in the moment.

Pay attention to your breathing and any tension you might feel in your muscles. If you feel stressed, you may be trying to do too many things at once. Practice mindfulness – be fully present in the moment. Tackle one thing at a time.

If you are concerned that you or your aging loved one may be experiencing signs of dementia, consult with your doctor.

Your doctor will rule out medical conditions that can produce dementia-like symptoms. Discuss any concerns that you may have of anxiety, stress, or other mental struggles that can affect overall well-being.

Your doctor will review the medical history and symptoms and will conduct a physical examination. Your doctor will help to pinpoint the problem.

The actual diagnosis of dementia is not completed by one single test. If your doctor sees the need for testing, he or she will order a series of tests.

We Are Here to Help

We know that it can feel overwhelming and daunting when someone that we love becomes more forgetful as they age, and when we feel we are personally experiencing more frequent memory lapses, it can be frightening.

If you have questions, we can help! If you are in the Round Rock or North Austin, Texas area, reach out to us online and request an appointment or call 512-399-5080.