Normal Aging vs. Early Alzheimer’s Disease

How can we tell the difference between normal age related memory symptoms and early Alzheimer’s disease symptoms?

It is important to note that not everyone will experience the same symptoms. What may be normal for one person may not be normal for another. Generally speaking, normal age-related cognitive decline is subtle and mostly affects thinking speed or the ability to pay attention. 

That being said, sometimes it’s hard to decide if you should be concerned about the memory changes you are experiencing.

The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 warning signs and symptoms that you should be on the lookout for.

#1. Memory Loss

Normal Aging: This is the main complaint that aging individuals have. If you are experiencing normal aging you may still forget information such as someone’s name or what time you have an appointment, but you will eventually remember it later.

Early Symptom: If you are forgetting information and asking for that same information over and over, heavily relying on reminders from technology, family, or friends, you may be experiencing memory problems that are more severe than normal aging that could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. The main distinction to make here is whether or not your memory complaints are interfering with and disrupting your daily life.

#2. Changes in Problem Solving or Planning

Normal Aging: Making small mistakes from time to time, such as an error balancing your checkbook or forgetting an ingredient in a recipe while cooking is considered to be normal aging. Sometimes the ability to react or think things through will be a bit slower, and it may be easier to become distracted.

Early Symptom: If you have a harder time keeping track of monthly bills, following recipes from start to finish, working with numbers, counting change, calculating a tip, or creating and following plans, you may be experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Here, the ability to concentrate will be very difficult.

#3. Difficulty With Tasks That Are Familiar At Work, Home, or Leisure

Normal Aging: During normal aging you may need help figuring out settings on appliances or understanding how to use newer technologies, but you are still able to complete your daily tasks despite these difficulties.

Early Symptom: If you are experiencing difficulties in these areas that keep you from completing your daily tasks, you may be experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This could include forgetting how to get somewhere that you visit frequently, remembering the rules of a game you like to play, or having trouble completing your duties at work that you didn’t struggle with previously.

#4. Confusion With Time or Place

Normal Aging: Time Flies! It is normal to occasionally forget the date or day of the week, as long as you are able to remember it or figure it out later. It is also common to go into a room and forget the reason for going there, but remembering again shortly after.

Early Symptom: People who are developing Alzheimer’s typically forget dates and seasons and have a hard time recognizing the passage of time. If you are getting lost or don’t know where you are in a place that is familiar to you, this is a sign of something more severe than normal aging. There will also be a struggle with time-relationships when discussing life events. In this stage, the person is not likely to figure out the day of the week or what season it is later on because they don’t realize that they never knew it to begin with.

#5. Visuospatial Problems

Normal Aging: It is normal for your eyes to age along with the rest of your body. Things like cataracts, misty or cloudy vision, or changes in your eyesight strength contribute to the way you see images or perceive spatial relationships. These would be considered normal aging events.

Early Symptom: It is not normal when you are experiencing difficulties interpreting visual information such as reading, driving, and judging distances between things. These may be indications that something more concerning is going on.

#6. Trouble Speaking or Writing Words

Normal Aging: It is normal to struggle to find the right word sometimes. We all do it. As we age we may also have more difficulty keeping up with a conversation and find that we need to concentrate harder in order to participate. If too many people are speaking at once, it may be easy to lose track of the conversation.

Early Symptom: If you notice a change in your ability to hold a conversation with someone, finding the correct word for something, or forgetting what you’re talking about in the middle of speaking, this may be a sign that you’re developing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

#7. Losing Items and Not Being Able To Find Them

Normal Aging: In normal aging we may set something down and forget later where we left the item, but we have the ability to think back and retrace our steps to find the lost item.

Early Symptom: In early Alzheimer’s you may lose something, but not be able to find it again. You may even start leaving things in unusual places that they don’t necessary belong. Over time this will start to occur more frequently.

#8. Changes in Judgment

Normal Aging: We all make bad choices from time to time throughout life. We learn from these mistakes and recognize that it may not have been the best choice or action.

Early Symptom: When your ability to make appropriate decisions or assess risks begins to decrease, you may be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. Making bad choices frequently such as giving large sums of money to telemarketers or getting involved in pyramid schemes are common examples of changes in judgment.

#9. Abandoning Social Activities or Work

Normal Aging: Hesitating before going to a social gathering or function is to be expected. As you get older, social engagements can be tiring.

Early Symptom: A person who is experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s will start to abandon, lose interest or withdraw from hobbies, work responsibilities, or social gatherings altogether. This could be due to the changes they are experiencing, or they may be forgetting that they enjoy the activity.

#10. Mood and Personality Changes

Normal Aging: Being irritated when someone or something disrupts your daily routine is common. Normally, you are irritated briefly, work through it and move on. It is also normal aging to feel a bit anxious or weary about social or family obligations.

Early Symptom: If you are having early Alzheimer’s symptoms, you may have drastic changes in feeling suspicious, confused, angry, sad, anxious and uncomfortable. Typically, you may easily become upset over little things. You may pace or wander away from an unfamiliar situation, and odd behaviors will begin to emerge.

*Make sure not to try and self diagnose after reading through these symptoms. If you have concerns that you may be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, discuss what you are experiencing and feeling with your doctor.

Being aware of these 10 warning signs and symptoms will help you, or your loved one, be proactive with care related to Alzheimer’s disease.

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s [Internet]. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. [cited 2019May29]. Available from:
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