Dementia: 10 ways to tell the difference between Alzheimer’s and age-related issues

Dementia: 10 ways to tell the difference between Alzheimer’s and age-related issues

Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia

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The common symptoms we all think of when it comes to dementia are memory loss. But as dementia tends to affect older people it could be easy to confuse regular changes that come with ageing and real symptoms. To help tell the difference, the Alzheimer’s Association has compiled 10 examples comparing dementia symptoms with things that shouldn’t cause concern that are listed below.

Memory loss that disrupts daily life – One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

The typical age-related change – Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

Challenges in planning or solving problems – Some people living with dementia may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

The typical age-related change – Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.

Difficulty completing familiar tasks – People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, organising a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favourite game.

The typical age-related change – Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.

Confusion with time or place – People living with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

The typical age-related change – Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.


Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships – For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining colour or contrast, causing issues with driving.

The typical age-related change – Vision changes related to cataracts.

New problems with words in speaking or writing – People living with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).

The typical age-related change – Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.

The typical age-related change – Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

Decreased or poor judgement – Individuals may experience changes in judgement or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgement when dealing with money or pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

The typical age-related change – Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.

Withdrawal from work or social activities – A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation.
As a result, he or she may withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They may have trouble keeping up with a favourite team or activity.

The typical age-related change – Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.

Changes in mood and personality – Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when out of their comfort zone.

The typical age-related change – Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

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