Agewise Counseling
Diane M Wilson, MFT
Normal Memory Loss vs. Dementia
We all lose some memory retrieval as we get older. The question in our minds is: what is normal memory loss versus what is dementia?   Alzheimer’s disease is only one form of dementia. 

Some normal signs of memory loss as we age include:
  • It takes longer to process information, especially if it is complex.
  • It takes more time to refocus once our attention has been diverted.
  • Our working memory decreases. So it might take longer to remember the phone number that was once second nature, or we may forget someone’s name we haven’t seen in a while.  We also may forget the name of an object we use very rarely.
  • It is harder to recall events that happened a long time ago, especially when they did not happen directly to us or our family.
  • It is more difficult to remember things we need to do in the future. We may need to write down tasks that we remembered a few years ago.
  • There is a lot of variation in “normal memory”, so compare yourself to you, not your friend or partner.
  • Things that impact memory include: aging, depression, anxiety, stress, medications, physical illness, sleep, and how active you keep your mind and body.
Possible Signs of Dementia
Virginia Morris, in her book How to Care for Aging Parents, notes the following symptoms of dementia:
  • Confusion - simple tasks are difficult to perform
  • Memory loss – information is forgotten frequently and eventually permanently
  • Disorientation – the person gets lost even in familiar places
  • Poor grooming – personal hygiene is neglected and clothing may be soiled or inappropriate for the event or the weather
  • Mood swings – the person easily becomes upset, agitated or angry
  • Language difficulty – words are forgotten, misused or garbled
  • Math difficulty – counting or balancing a checkbook is a challenge
  • Poor judgment – a person makes unsafe or unusual decisions
  • Repetition – the person says or does the same thing over and over
Frequently a person’s language is affected. Conversations may become shorter, and it may be difficult to discuss complex ideas.

Dementia is a spectrum of diseases. If you suspect someone of having dementia, have him/her evaluated, either by a mental health specialist (such as a neuropsychologist), or at a memory clinic such as the one at UCSF in San Francisco or the Stanford/VA Center in Palo Alto, CA.

UCSF Memory and Aging Center
400 Parnassus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122
415 476-6880

VA/Stanford Alzheimer’s Center
3801 Miranda Avenue
Palo Alto 94304
650 858-3915

Morris, Virginia, How to Care for Aging Parents, Workman Publishing, 2004
Call (or email) Diane to set up a consultation: 415 440-1243

Diane Wilson, MFT                                                          415 440-1243
1526 Franklin Street                                                         Email Me
San Francisco, CA  94109