How to spot normal signs of aging versus something more

An African senior male close up of his face showing his facial hair, eyes and lips. There is a reflection of the ocean in his eyes.(Wil Punt | Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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As people age, there is often worry when a name or a word can’t be remembered, or car keys are misplaced. People wonder if it is the beginning of dementia.

Changing cognitive abilities may be due to aging or can be symptoms of dementia. The Center for Memory Health assessment helps sort this out.

1. Memory change that affects daily life

Normal signs of aging: Temporarily forgetting names or appointments

Evaluation recommended: Forgetting recently learned information; repeating questions. Forgetting events, repeating yourself or frequently relying on more aids to help you remember (like sticky notes or reminders).

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems

Normal signs of aging: Occasional errors balancing a checkbook

Evaluation recommended: Difficulty concentrating; inability to develop or follow a plan; having trouble paying bills or cooking recipes you have used for years.

3. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Normal signs of aging: Occasionally making a wrong turn when driving

Evaluation recommended: Difficulty driving to a familiar location; difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or at leisure; having difficulty managing medications, using a cell phone or shopping.

4. Confusion with time and place

Normal signs of aging: Occasional forgetfulness

Evaluation recommended: Confusion about the time of day and what is appropriate for that time. Having trouble understanding an event that is happening later or losing track of dates.

5. Changes in vision

Normal signs of aging: Needing bifocals or cataract surgery

Evaluation recommended: Difficulty reading, judging distance or determining color or contrast. Also, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations: having more difficulty with balance or judging distance; tripping over things at home; or spilling or dropping things more often.

6. Communication issues

Normal signs of aging: Occasional difficulty finding the right word

Evaluation recommended: Difficulty following or initiating a conversation. New problems with words in speaking or writing: having trouble following or joining a conversation or struggling to find a word you are looking for (saying “that thing on your wrist that tells time” instead of “watch”).

7. Misplacing belongings

Normal signs of aging: Misplacing keys, but able to retrace steps to find them

Evaluation recommended: Placing items in odd places; accusing other of stealing or losing ability to retrace steps. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: placing car keys in the washer or dryer or not being able to retrace steps to find something.

8. Decreased or poor judgment

Normal signs of aging: Occasionally making a poor decision

Evaluation recommended: Frequently making poor decisions; paying less attention to own physical appearance. Decreased or poor judgment: being a victim of a scam, not managing money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having trouble taking care of a pet.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities

Normal signs of aging: Tiring of housework, work or social obligations

Evaluation recommended: No longer initiating activities once enjoyed. Not wanting to go to church or other activities as you usually do; not being able to follow football games or keep up with what’s happening.

10. Changes in mood and personality

Normal signs of aging: Occasionally being sad or moody

Evaluation recommended: Rapid mood swings; issues within previously comfortable social situations. Changes in mood and personality: getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious.

To learn more, contact the Center for Memory Health at (319) 398-6435 or schedule an appointment now.

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention