Memory and Aging: Recognizing the Symptoms

By Kathy Fratrick, LCSW, Shell Point Retirement Community

A key concern of older adults is the experience of memory loss, especially as it is one of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, memory loss is qualitatively different in normal aging from the kind of memory loss associated with a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.

With age, almost everyone will experience decreased efficiency of memory. It is when memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts your hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, that you may be experiencing the warning signs of a disorder that causes dementia or a condition that mimics dementia.

Normal age-related memory changes Symptoms that may indicate dementia
Able to function independently and pursue normal activities (bill paying, managing medications, cooking, driving), despite occasional memory lapses. Difficulty performing simple tasks ( cooking, working the TV remote, daily living tasks), or forgetting how to do things you’ve done many times.
Able to recall and describe incidents of forgetfulness. “You remember that you forget.” Unable to recall or describe specific instances where memory loss caused problems. “You forget that you forget.”
May pause to remember directions, but doesn’t get lost in familiar places. Gets lost or disoriented even in familiar places; unable to follow directions.
Occasional difficulty finding the right word, but no trouble holding a conversation. Words are frequently forgotten, misused, or garbled. Repeats phrases and stories in same conversation.
Judgment and decision-making ability the same as always. Trouble making choices and may show poor judgment or behave in socially inappropriate ways.


The key factors to managing memory disorders are early detection and identification of and implementation of memory management strategies. Consider therapeutic services or behavioral health services which could assist with the identification of a memory condition and facilitate the development of an appropriate treatment plan. And as always, talk to your primary care physician if you have concerns about your memory.