Our Parents
Senior Health
Senior Living Options
Finances & Legal
Products for Seniors
About Us
A pink banner with the OurParents logo

How to Identify Normal Aging vs. Dementia in Your Loved Ones

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated February 25, 2024

Recognizing potential signs of dementia in your aging parents is a critical aspect of caregiving. It’s essential to know the difference between what’s just part of getting older and what could be a sign of something more serious, like dementia. This distinction can help you provide your loved ones with the care and support they need. When you know what to look for, you can be better prepared and more understanding of changes that might occur as your parents grow older.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Normal aging vs. dementia

As your loved one ages, their body, including their brain, undergoes numerous changes. These changes might lead to a decline in memory, such as not remembering details as clearly or taking longer to recall them. Your loved one might also occasionally lose track of important items or forget to pay a bill. These instances are typically signs of minor forgetfulness rather than severe memory issues and are examples of normal aging.[01]
In contrast, if your loved one is experiencing significant memory problems that interfere with daily activities like driving, using the phone, or navigating back to their house, it could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Many seniors will face an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis in their lifetime; an estimated 6.7 million Americans over age 65 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.[02] This finding underscores the importance of understanding and preparing for potential changes in the brain as your loved one grows older and begins experiencing memory problems.
Because millions face Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnoses, it’s important to distinguish the difference between normal memory slips due to aging and serious memory problems. Understanding this difference is essential to determining whether your loved one is exhibiting early signs of dementia vs. normal aging.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

How to identify seniors at high risk for dementia

As your parents grow older, it’s essential to identify their risk level for developing dementia. This distinction can help you differentiate between the subtleties of normal cognitive aging vs. dementia and provide clearer guidance for any memory problems that may arise.
Some common high-risk factors for dementia include:
  1. Age: As parents get older, especially past 65, they have a higher chance of being diagnosed with dementia.
  2. Family history: If your family has a history of dementia, your parents might be more likely to have it, too.
  3. Genetic factors: Certain genetic changes, such as mutations in the APOE gene, can increase the risk of dementia.[03]
  4. Heart health: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can make dementia more likely.
  5. Head injuries: If your parents have had serious head injuries in the past, this can increase their risk for memory problems.
  6. Lifestyle factors: Smoking, regular alcohol consumption, poor diet, and little to no physical activity can all increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
While you can’t change some risk factors like genetics, you can protect yourself through lifestyle and health care choices. Your role in monitoring and supporting your parent’s health and well-being is essential as they grow older and face potential memory loss.

Signs of dementia vs. normal aging

Understanding the difference between dementia vs. normal aging is essential to catching early indicators of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Normal aging might look like the following:
  • Occasional forgetfulness: Forgetting names or appointments occasionally but remembering them later.
  • Age-related slowness: Slower processing of information and minor difficulty with multitasking.
  • Word-finding difficulties: Struggling to find the right word sometimes is normal, but frequently losing track of conversations is not.
  • Mood changes: Feeling moody or irritable occasionally, especially with a change in routine.
  • Physical changes: Gradual physical decline, like reduced hearing, vision, or mobility.
  • Memory lapses: Brief moments of forgetfulness, such as forgetting why you entered a room but recalling it later.
When comparing the early signs of dementia vs. normal aging, it’s equally crucial to know what to watch out for if your loved one’s symptoms are more pronounced.
Dementia symptoms might look like the following:
  • Memory loss affecting daily life: Forgetting recently learned information, conversations, not remembering important dates and events, or repeatedly asking for the same information.
  • Difficulty planning or solving problems: Changes in a person’s ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. Difficulty concentrating and taking much longer to do things than before.
  • Confusion with time or place: Losing track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time.
  • Trouble understanding visual and spatial cues: Difficulty reading, judging distance, or determining color, which may cause issues with driving.
  • Speech changes or frequent pauses: Trouble following or joining a conversation. Stopping in the middle of a conversation and having no idea how to continue.
  • Misplacing things: Placing things in unusual places. Losing things and being unable to go back over their steps to find them again.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities: Withdrawing from hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports.
  • Changes in mood and personality: Becoming frequently and unusually confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious.
It’s important to note that everyone experiences aging differently, and having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean your loved one has dementia. However, if you are concerned about memory or cognitive changes in your parent, talk to their doctor and ask questions to find out more.

Talk with a Senior Care Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

What to do if you’re worried

If you’re noticing changes in a loved one’s memory or thinking, it’s natural to feel concerned. Change is inevitable with age, but it’s important to differentiate small lapses in memory from larger signs of dementia.
Remember: You’re not alone in this journey. Speak to a doctor if you’re worried about a loved one to gain additional guidance and support. Navigating this time can be challenging, but with the right information, you can provide your loved one with the care, understanding, and dignity they deserve.


  1. National Institute on Aging. (2023, November 22). Memory problems, forgetfulness, and aging.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 12). About Alzheimer’s disease.

  3. National Institute on Aging. (2023, March 1). Alzheimer’s disease genetics fact sheet.

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.