Is It Alzheimer’s or Normal Aging?

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on April 05, 2023
3 min read

As you get older, chances are you’ll sometimes forget a word, where you left your car keys, or the name of a neighbor you bumped into at the market.

These small memory lapses happen. They're a normal part of aging -- just like creaky knees, wrinkled skin, or blurry vision.

It can help to:

  • Write yourself notes.
  • Place your keys in the same place each day.
  • Play word games or do crossword puzzles.

Because loss of memory is also a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, you might worry that these lapses are a sign of something more serious. Alzheimer’s, which affects some 5 million Americans, most of them over 65, is irreversible.

In most cases, there’s no great cause for worry. Just because you lose your keys or forget someone’s name doesn’t mean you have Alzheimer’s. You could have memory loss due to the normal aging process.

Conditions that contribute to memory loss include:

  • Depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Not enough vitamin B12 or a low thyroid level
  • Stress and worry of any kind, such as from the death of a spouse or loved one, or from retirement
  • Illness

One symptom of more serious memory loss is that you’re not aware there’s a problem. Family members might seem more worried than you are. If loved ones are talking to you about your memory, take their concerns to heart and see a doctor.

Here’s a checklist for what’s normal, along with causes for concern.

Normal: You forget daily appointments but remember them later.
Cause for concern: You ask friends and family for details over and over again, or need them to do tasks that you used to do yourself.

Normal: You make a mistake balancing your checkbook.
Cause for concern: You have trouble planning or solving problems that used to be easy. It’s hard to do things that involve numbers, like follow a recipe or pay monthly bills.

Normal: You need help once in a while with the microwave settings or a TV remote.
Cause for concern: You can’t work the stove or drive to a familiar spot.

Normal: You forget what day of the week it is but remember later.
Cause for concern: You find yourself in a place and don’t know how you got there.

Normal: You have age-related vision changes. You get a cataract, for instance.
Cause for concern: You have problems with distance, color, or perception. You pass a mirror and don’t know your own reflection.

Normal: You can’t find the right word immediately.
Cause for concern: You call things by the wrong names. You stop in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what you were saying.

Normal: You misplace your glasses or the remote from time to time.
Cause for concern: You put things in weird places, and you can’t retrace your steps to find them. Or, you accuse others of stealing.

Normal: You make a bad decision from time to time.
Cause for concern: You make bad choices with money often. You don’t groom or keep yourself clean.

Normal: You feel tired of work, family, and social demands sometimes.
Cause for concern: You can’t keep up with the teams or hobbies you like. You try not to spend time with others because of the changes you’ve been through.

Normal: You have your ways of doing things and get grumpy when you’re derailed.
Cause for concern: You get upset easily, when your routine changes, or when you’re out of your comfort zone. You’re often confused, anxious, suspicious, depressed, or afraid.