The Signs of Alzheimer's vs. Forgetfulness - Landmark Senior Living


Oct 05 2018

The Signs of Alzheimer’s vs. Forgetfulness

Post by: Conor Denton

As you age, forgetting things becomes a more normal aspect of everyday life. In fact, our world today has become especially dependent on reminders. Whether it be a notification on your smartphone or a bullet point on your refrigerator’s whiteboard, there are many ways in which we are reminded of what to do on a daily basis.

So the important factor as you age is being able to determine when forgetfulness becomes a problem. How is anyone to know when forgetfulness is converting into early onset Alzheimer’s or other mental illnesses? Here are a few signs and symptoms that can help differentiate normal aging processes versus early developing mental illnesses.

An older man thinking about if he is suffering from alzheimer's or forgetfulness.

Long-term/Short-term memory

The main way to recognize whether or not your forgetfulness should be concerning is determining what memories you struggle with retrieving. An inability to recollect long-term memories is normal as you age. Generally, some combination of trigger points, otherwise known as “cues” should help bring that memory back.

However, if context clues have no affect on your remembrance of long-term memories, and you severely struggle with remembering recent short-term memories, it could be time to contact your doctor. You may be beginning to experience symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s.


As you age, your attention span naturally decreases, and that alone isn’t cause for major concern. The more prominent actions to analyze is whether or not your linguistics and understanding of the situation are deteriorating. If you can understand what you are doing and why you are doing it, even if it’s at a slower rate than when you were younger, you’re ok.

The biggest cause for concern is an inability to remember correct vocabulary structure or total lack of concentration in general. At this point, symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s might be rearing their ugly head, and a doctor’s visit might be best.

Source Memory

Source memory refers to the origin point of information. In other words, source memory is where or when what you’ve seen or heard came from. This is one of the more straightforward concerns to have regarding memory loss. If you are struggling to recollect who said what or when/where something was discussed, you may be experiencing difficulty with source memory, which can in turn develop into Alzheimer’s or other mental health related illnesses.

Repetitive Habits

One of the more telling signs of forgetfulness is communicating in a repetitive manner. The main concern here is an increased difficulty in remembering what was said, resulting in common repetition of the same statement. Now, everyone forgets something every once in a while so it’s not cause for major concern if you or someone you know repeats themselves on occasion. The focus here should be the rate at which someone repeats themselves. For example, a daily occurrence of repetitive communication is concerning behavior and a doctor’s visit should be scheduled promptly.

Chronological Memory

Chronological memory refers to the order in which events took place. Similar to source memory, issues with chronological memory are easily identifiable. If you’re struggling to remember orders of events, you’re struggling with chronological memory. As it is with source memory, issues with chronological memory can further develop into Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses if left untreated. If you or a loved one are noticing a constant struggle to remember orders of events, it may be best to see a doctor.

Analytical/Numerical Abilities

As you age, there is no doubt that tasks you deemed medial and simple when you were younger become increasingly difficult. One of the most prominent examples of this is a deterioration in analytical/numerical ability. Naturally, some people don’t have strong numerical skills in the first place, so this sign is less of a cause for concern than others. Having said that, a steep drop off in numerical/analytical ability could be a direct result of early onset Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, if you or a loved one are experiencing severely increased irritability while using analytical or numerical data, continue to monitor the situation as it’s especially hard to differentiate forgetfulness versus symptoms of mental illnesses in this case. When in doubt, contact a doctor as they will have far more insight on individual situations.

Trouble Identifying Locations

As far as concerns go, this may be of highest priority. If you struggle with understanding or realizing where you are and how you got there, then you may be experiencing one of the most common indicators of early onset Alzheimer’s. A complete lack of self awareness is a tell tale sign of an early Dementia-related illness setting in.

Distinguishing a consistent lack of self-awareness is the most difficult part of identifying this issue. The signs should be transparent, as previously explained. Consistency is also imperative, as the warnings should be obvious and abundant. Make sure to immediately consult your doctor if repetitive behavior occurs.

Next Steps

In conclusion, there are an abundance of factors that need to be considered when attempting to differentiate between forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s in the elderly. Proceed with a fair amount of caution during observation. It’s essential that you don’t confuse honest mistakes with a lack of self awareness, as people take longer to complete tasks of any capacity when they age.

Caring for your loved one experiencing common senior living symptoms carries increased responsibility as they grow older, so your attention to detail needs to be heightened as well. Make sure to be vigilant in observation, but not to the point where honest mistakes are impossible to recognize. At the end of the day, if you and your loved one are unsure of any signs or symptoms contact your local doctor immediately, as it’s always safer to error on the side of caution when it comes to serious health risks.

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