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Distinguishing Normal "Senior Moments” From Dementia

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Are you concerned about your memory? Johns Hopkins doctors compare symptoms of normal aging with those of more serious dementia.

Occasional memory lapses, such as forgetting why you walked into a room or having difficulty recalling a person’s name, become more common as we approach our 50s and 60s. It’s comforting to know that this minor forgetfulness is a normal sign of aging, not a sign of dementia.

But other types of memory loss, such as forgetting appointments or becoming momentarily disoriented in a familiar place, may indicate mild cognitive impairment. In the most serious form of memory impairment – dementia -- people often find themselves disoriented in time and place and unable to name common objects or recognize once-familiar people.

Here are examples of the types of memory problems common in normal age-related forgetfulness, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia.

Memory Condition -- Normal Age-Related Forgetfulness:

  • Sometimes misplaces keys, eyeglasses, or other items.
  • Momentarily forgets an acquaintance’s name.
  • Occasionally has to “search” for a word.
  • Occasionally forgets to run an errand.
  • May forget an event from the distant past.
  • When driving, may momentarily forget where to turn. Quickly orients self.
  • Jokes about memory loss.


Memory Condition -- Mild Cognitive Impairment:


  • Frequently misplaces items.
  • Frequently forgets people’s names and is slow to recall them.
  • Finding words becomes more difficult.
  • Begins to forget important events and appointments.
  • May forget more recent events or newly learned information.
  • May temporarily become lost more often.
  • May have trouble understanding and following a map.
  • Worries about memory loss. Family and friends notice the lapses.


Memory Condition -- Dementia:


  • Forgets what an item is used for or puts it in an inappropriate place.
  • May not remember knowing a person.
  • Begins to lose language skills. May withdraw from social interaction.
  • Loses sense of time. Doesn’t know what day it is.
  • Short-term memory is seriously impaired. Has difficulty learning and remembering new information.
  • Becomes easily disoriented or lost in familiar places, sometimes for hours.
  • May have little or no awareness of cognitive problems.

Posted in Memory on February 11, 2008
Reviewed September 2011

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

This article is predicated by the term "senior moments", yet at age 46 I find myself experiencing events from all three of the catagories noted. Being bipolar may account for some of this decline in my once very sharp mind. But, I am more inclined to believe that the medication I take (which, by design is meant to regulate the little gray cells) is at the root of this memory problem. Now, if as people age they gradually lose some of their faculties, would it not follow that folks who are taking certain medications would experience an increase, in varying degrees, of memory loss and even dementia? It must be very disconcerting for them.

The concise catagories and supporting lists are very informative--even inspirational. Now that I know what to look for, I can attempt to create some mental exercises and habits to minimize my memory issues.

Thank You.

Posted by: FreeMind99 | February 16, 2008 7:49 AM

On March 27th, I'll be 79. I guess that qualifies me for the Senior Moments class of citizens. I do forget names, but use association to assist me. Example. I know a person for many years. I meet her at various functions and can't recall her name. So I said to myself her first name begins with the letter "R", and her last name begins with "M". So I assoociate those 2 letters with the "Royal Marines"...and then I remember her name.

And to make me feel better about the whole "Memory" issue, I put on my favorite "T" shirt that has inscribed across the chest in big bold letters "THE OLDER I GET, THE BETTER I WAS".....anf then all is well with the world and me.


Posted by: dd | February 16, 2008 8:56 AM

I don't agree with the dementia and can't remember what day it is, when you are retired you really don't know just what day it is till you look at the morning paper.... my husband and I do this all the time and we just laugh about it

Posted by: junesandy | February 16, 2008 3:00 PM

I don't agree with the dementia and can't remember what day it is, when you are retired you really don't know just what day it is till you look at the morning paper.... my husband and I do this all the time and we just laugh about it

Posted by: | February 16, 2008 3:00 PM

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