Signs of Alzheimer’s or Normal Forgetfulness?

Compare normal aging vs Alzheimer's signs in 5 everyday situations

Worried about someone’s memory or cognitive function?

Do you wonder if your parent or spouse’s increased forgetfulness or strange behavior is a normal part of aging or if they’re signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

It’s easy to make that assumption, but it’s important to get more information before thinking the worst.

There are big differences between the normal forgetfulness that comes with age and the warning signs of cognitive impairment. Plus, there are many common and treatable health conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms.

So how do you know if the behavior you’re noticing in your older adult is normal or if they need to be evaluated by a doctor?

We found a helpful explanation of 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association.

From that list, we highlight 5 real-life examples that show the key differences between normal aging behavior and possible early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia.




Signs of Alzheimer’s vs normal aging in 5 everyday situations

It turns out that everyone loses some memory-making and cognitive abilities as they age. The decline starts by age 40 and keeps going.

So, occasional forgetfulness like “Where did I leave my keys?” or “What did I come here to get?” probably isn’t something to worry about.

But there are signs that the behavior you’re observing could be outside the norm. Here’s how that might look in 5 everyday situations:

1. Everyday tasks like using the TV remote or microwave oven
Normal aging: Needing help or reminders once in a while

Signs of Alzheimer’s: Trouble with familiar or daily tasks like getting lost driving to a local store they’ve shopped for 10 years, forgetting how to make a favorite recipe they’ve cooked for decades, or not understanding how to play a card game they play regularly.

2. Multi-step or complex tasks like paying bills or cooking a meal
Normal aging: Making mistakes once in a while when balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal (Oops, forgot the paprika!).

Signs of Alzheimer’s: Difficulty planning, problem solving, or sequencing steps, like trouble following a familiar recipe or not being able to keep track of monthly bills.

3. Keeping track of time
Normal aging: Sometimes getting temporarily confused about the day of the week, then figuring it out later. (Is today Tuesday or Wednesday? Oh that’s right, it’s Wednesday.)

Signs of Alzheimer’s: Having trouble tracking dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Sometimes forgetting where they are or how they got there.

4. Judgement and decision-making
Normal aging: Once in a while using poor judgment or making bad decisions like drinking too much at a big party or spending too much money on something frivolous.

Signs of Alzheimer’s: Frequently uses bad judgment or makes unwise decisions like giving large amounts of money to telemarketers or scammers, buying tons of unnecessary stuff from online shopping channels, or paying less attention than normal to personal hygiene – like wearing the same clothesrefusing to bathe, etc.

5. Personality changes
Normal aging: Getting annoyed or irritated when a long-held habit or routine is disrupted.

Signs of Alzheimer’s: Noticeable changes in mood or personality like getting confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. Or, being easily upset at home, at work, with friends, or in places where they’re out of their comfort zone.


What to do if you notice behavior changes

If you notice significant, serious, or sudden behavior changes in your older adult, schedule a checkup with their doctor right away.

If these changes are caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia, early detection and treatment could help reduce and manage symptoms – allowing them to stay independent longer.


Next Step  Find out more about 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


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Linking Disclaimer: The Alzheimer’s Association is not responsible for information or advice provided by others, including information on websites that link to Association sites and on third party sites to which the Association links. Please direct any questions to


  • Reply May 29, 2018

    ye ole anonymous

    A fabulous website. Everything was helpful….some info was not available on site but I am sure maybe later on?
    I encourage others, like myself, get acquainted with all before it becomes a challenge in your life of parents lives, or worse yet, your adult child becomes estranged…Thank you. You are a blessing

    • Reply June 6, 2018


      Thank you! So glad our articles are helpful. If you have specific questions, please let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them.

  • Reply May 18, 2016

    Sue Anne Reyes

    One of the worst mistakes you’ll commit while dealing with your aging parent’s negative actions is to take it personally. When your father starts acting so rudely, it’s most likely because of something that is not even your fault. Often, you just happen to be there so you become the recipient of his frustrations. It is also wrong to assume that the problem is you. Don’t blame yourself if your elderly loved one displays upsetting actions. Instead, do the best you can to help him overcome this obstacle.

    • Reply May 18, 2016


      Not taking negative behavior personally is a very helpful technique. But it’s natural for caregivers to instinctively take it to heart when someone they’re caring for says something negative. It’s certainly not the caregiver’s fault for taking something personally, but hopefully Sue Anne’s suggestion to remember that you’re not the problem and you’re not to blame for the behavior will help take some of the sting out of it.

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