Normal Aging or Dementia?

A common conversation among family members and loved ones of older adults center on noticing changes in mental ability.  It is not unusual to wonder if any changes are part of the natural aging process or is it something more serious, perhaps signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

These conversations are important in any situation, as those closest to an aging adult are the first ones to see changes in behavior that could be more serious than simply aging.

To step back a moment, here is a brief clarification. The National Institute of Health explains that dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder.  “Although we don’t yet know for certain what, if anything, can prevent dementia, in general, leading a healthy lifestyle may help reduce risk factors. Various neurodegenerative disorders and factors contribute to the development of dementia through a progressive and irreversible loss of neurons and brain functioning. Currently, there is no cure for any type of dementia.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.”

The natural process of aging includes certain differences in cognition, but dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not a natural part of aging.


Here are a few highlights to consider from the Alzheimer’s Association:

Signs of Alzheimer’s disease Typical Age Related Changes
Poor judgment and decision making Making bad decisions once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or season Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time

In considering these differences, it is advised to seek medical attention if there are symptoms.  Sometimes other underlying medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it is important to rule those out with a medical professional.

Pro Tip: 

Medicare allows for one Medicare cognitive evaluation annually.  Be sure you or your aging loved ones take advantage of this exam.


The Alzheimer’s Association has many support tools and information to assist aging adults and their families.  Here are two preliminary tools they provide to help in the conversation.

  1. Alzheimers-dementia-10-signs-worksheet
  2. Alzheimers Association 10 steps to prepare for your doctor visit

Need more help? 

In the Detroit metropolitan area, contact Beaumont Geriatric Assessment Center

For an in-home assessment contact Geriatric Care Management Services | Beaumont Health

Download article PDF with tips and links:  Normal Aging or Dementia