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Is It Normal Aging or Alzheimer's?

Ten early signs of Alzheimer's Disease.

D. Grande
Source: D. Grande

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s Dementia. That’s not so bad if you read it as 90 percent of that age group do not have Alzheimer’s. However, if you are that one in 10, it is a frightening diagnosis. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early diagnosis can be helpful in: obtaining medical care to treat the symptoms, getting social support for both the patient and the caretaker, and planning for legal, financial, and end of life decisions.

Part of the difficulty in obtaining an early diagnosis is that 75% of Americans think that memory loss is a normal and natural part of aging. That is true to some extent. Each of the 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s is also an event that might occur as part of normal aging on occasion, or for a few moments now and then. Here are some early signs and where they may cross the line from normal to problematic. Since it is often a partner or other family member who first notices these changes, you might keep an awareness of these signs for both yourself and your partner.

1. You start to have trouble using words in speaking or writing.

Examples: Not being able to find the right word, calling common things by the wrong name, as in “Where did I put my foot-covers?” (shoes), stopping in the middle of a conversation and not knowing how to continue, or repeating yourself several times in one conversation.

Normal aging means occasionally being unable to think of the right…, uhm, …word.

2. You have a hard time completing a routine task.

Examples: Forgetting how to get to the grocery store where you have shopped for years, or forgetting the rules of a favorite game

Normal aging might include asking a younger family member for the third time how to do Face-Time on the (!@#*) cell phone!

3. You have difficulty making a plan or working with numbers.

Examples: Trouble following a familiar recipe, repeated mistakes when balancing a checkbook, or losing track of monthly bills, “I can’t recall if I paid the bills this month.”

Normal aging involves making an occasional error, or missing a payment once in a while, such as when I really needed that new Michael Kors purse more than I needed to pay the cable TV bill.

4. You have memory loss that interferes with daily life.

Examples: Forgetting recently learned information, forgetting important dates or events, consistently forgetting appointments, relying on family members to remind you of things you used to remember on your own

Normal Aging involves sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but then being able to remember them later; such as “forgetting” to schedule that dreaded dental work.

5. You get confused about where you are, or what season it is, or lose track of the passage of time.

Examples: Wondering “Where am I? ” or “How did I get here?”

Normal aging might include briefly forgetting what day of the week it is, especially on a very busy day. (Actually, that happened to me during one of my therapy sessions a couple of days ago,… or was it yesterday?)

6. You experience changes in vision due to diminished ability to accurately interpret what is seen, including trouble with judging distance or seeing color or contrast.

Examples: not seeing the small grey cat lying on the grey rug and possibly tripping over her, being unable to distinguish the edges of steps due to changes in depth perception, or seeing the blue dish and the blue placemat as one object.

Normal aging may include having visual changes due to cataracts.

7. You frequently misplace things and can’t seem to retrace your steps, or you often put things in unusual places.

Examples: Leaving keys in the refrigerator, or a wallet next to the dogfood.

Normal aging does include misplacing things at times, but later being able to retrace your steps to find them. Eventually, you no doubt will find that banana you left in the back seat of your car 3 weeks ago.

8. You have been using poor judgement, or making poor decisions.

Examples: Buying much more than you can ever use from that telemarketer, not showering and grooming routinely, or wearing a winter jacket on a hot day.

Normal aging may include making a bad decision once in a while, like that time last year when I ate the whole “kitchen sink ice cream sundae.”

9. You have been withdrawing from work, social activities, or hobbies.

Examples: Avoiding dinner with friends because you’re feeling self-conscious about your forgetfulness, or losing interest in your favorite sports team because you can’t keep track of how they’re doing anyway.

Normal aging may involve not wanting to go to that annual family picnic that you’ve attended for the last 85 years (enough already)!

10. You notice, or more likely your partner notices, changes in mood or personality.

Examples: Getting more frequently confused, depressed, fearful, suspicious or irritable.

Normal aging often includes having developed specific ways of doing things and feeling irritated when your routines are disrupted. Even in normal aging, occasional suspiciousness may be understandable, such as wondering why your dog barks at just that one neighbor every time he passes your home.

Where to start if you are concerned.

There are various sources for help if you decide that an evaluation is needed for yourself, a partner, or a parent. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 helpline: 800-272-3900. They also host an informative website at The recommendation by the Alzheimer’s Association is to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have concerns about any of these 10 warning signs.

I hope this list has been helpful and that my humor is seen in the light of my compassion for the individuals who do experience any of these problems frequently. If you are old enough to be concerned about dementia, then you’ve probably learned that everything in life is a little easier when you approach it with a sense of humor.