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Forgetfulness or Dementia?

A lapse of memory is not inherently concerning. After all, people of all ages forget things every day. Where did you leave your car keys? When is your next dentist appointment? What ingredients do you need to purchase at the grocery store? Our brains can’t retain the mounds of information we shove inside them, so some things will inevitably be forgotten. As we age, remembering becomes more and more difficult, but at what point is it a cause for concern? Are you (or a loved one) suffering from forgetfulness or dementia?

Forgetfulness or Dementia?

As we age, our brains slow down a bit, requiring more time to process and remember information. All seniors experience forgetfulness, but that doesn’t mean they have dementia. For example, the following occurrences are perfectly normal:

  • Occasionally forgetting where you placed something
  • Forgetting the name of an acquaintance
  • Accidentally calling someone the wrong name (ex: referring to your son by your dog’s name)
  • Occasionally forgetting an appointment
  • Forgetting why you walked into a room
  • Having information “on the top of your tongue”

Dementia is not a disease; it is a disorder marked by symptoms that involve severe mental decline and disrupt daily life. These symptoms may affect the person’s recent memory (learning new things, recalling information), language (writing, speaking, understanding language), visuospatial abilities (using maps and symbols, understanding locations), and executive function (the ability to reason, focus, and solve problems). 

Sometimes forgetfulness is a simple memory lapse, and other times it is an indication of a serious problem. So before you brush off a loved one’s forgetfulness, take a closer look at the issue and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your loved one repeatedly forget names or words?
  • Do they ever forget very important details (ex: the name of their spouse)?
  • Do they forget about their memory lapses afterward?
  • Have tasks that were previously easy become very difficult, such as balancing a checkbook?
  • Have they ever gotten lost in a familiar place?
  • Do they seem to be lacking their innate common sense?
  • Do they have trouble making decisions or solving problems?
  • Do they repeat stories in the same conversation?
  • Do they often misplace things (ex: placing a cell phone in the fridge)?
  • Do they ever have a sudden outburst of anger, depression, or confusion?
  • Do they often forget about social engagements and appointments?
  • Do they avoid social activity, preferring to stay home alone?
  • Do they neglect their personal hygiene, nutrition, and safety?

Answering yes to one of these questions does not mean that your loved one has dementia. However, if they are showing some of these signs or symptoms, speak with their doctor immediately. The only way to determine whether your loved one is suffering from forgetfulness or dementia is through a professional assessment. Have an honest conversation with your loved one’s doctor, so that they can monitor the symptoms and suggest treatment therapies. Even if their symptoms cannot be mitigated, the doctor can suggest ways to improve their quality of life.


Identifying the difference between everyday forgetfulness and dementia could allow you to help a loved one. The earlier you say something, the earlier a doctor can diagnose the problem, perhaps even catching dementia in its early stages. Although our brains inevitably change as we age, major memory loss will always be a cause for concern, so don’t stand by and ignore a persistent problem.

Are you looking for an assisted living facility in Tennessee? If so, be sure to check out Hearthside Senior Living Place. We have two locations—one in Collierville and one soon to open in Bartlett— and we would be happy to schedule a tour for you so that you can explore your preferred facility, meet some of the residents, and ask any questions you might have. We look forward to meeting you!

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