Forgetfulness in old age: normal or dementia?

Forgetfulness in old age: normal or dementia?

Forgetfulness and problems concentrating – many older people already see this as a harbinger of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Fortunately, in most cases, this is not the case. Nevertheless, getting to the bottom of the causes is essential to detect diseases as early as possible. Lost the key, forgot your friend’s phone number – what’s behind it? And how can you distinguish forgetfulness in old age from dementia?

Forgetfulness in old age and dementia: differentiation of the terms

“Forgetfulness in old age” means the average, age-related loss of nerve cells in the brain, which can also lead to reduced memory performance.

The term “dementia” describes a pathological forgetfulness that is triggered by the increased death of nerve cells in the brain. In addition to dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, in which nerve cells in the brain die off for reasons that have not yet been clarified, other triggers can also be behind pathological forgetfulness.


What are the possible causes of dementia?

In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and the associated limitations in coping with everyday life can also be triggered by a physical disease, for example, of the heart, liver, kidneys or lungs. Brain disorders (Parkinson’s disease, strokebrain tumourencephalitis or head injury) can also be triggered.

In some forms of dementia, the symptoms appear more suddenly than in Alzheimer’s dementia. However, those affected often also suffer from a mixed form of different types of dementia, so it is often difficult to differentiate in practice.

Sometimes, however, what is supposed to be dementia also conceals a mental illness such as depression.

However, the symptoms may also be caused by external factors such as medication, alcohol, significant stress, poor sleep, poor diet or drugs.

Forgetfulness or dementia? interpret signs

A little forgetfulness is normal, especially in old age. However, forgetfulness can also have pathological causes and be a sign of dementia. The following table provides specific information on which symptoms tend to occur as part of normal-age forgetfulness and which can indicate dementia.

Another sign of dementia is the incorrect evaluation of situations. This includes, for example, choosing clothing entirely unsuitable for the weather conditions or problems with money management.

There are also increasing difficulties with orientation in an environment that is familiar or with estimating times. Increasing social withdrawal and a certain listlessness are also typical of people with dementia. Increasing aggressiveness or other noticeable changes in behaviour are also possible signs.


Is it depression?

Mental performance often appears reduced in people with depression, which is also referred to as pseudodementia. The distinction is important because of the different treatment approaches and is of crucial importance for the success of the therapy.

Seek medical advice if symptoms occur.

The first point of contact for a questionable dementia illness should be the general practitioner. This person usually knows the affected person for many years and can best classify changes in mental and functional abilities or behavioural problems.

At the beginning, a detailed discussion is held with the patient. First, with the help of specific questions and tasks, whether there is a pathological disorder of concentration and memory or an average age-related loss of performance is checked.

Other diseases must also be ruled out as the cause of the forgetfulness. As part of the diagnosis, the brain can be examined for visible changes, for example, using CT or MRI . blood count can also offer help, for instance, with a view to the inflammation values.

Sometimes, a referral to a neurological-psychiatric practice follows. There, a distinction is made between dementia and depression, or the present form of dementia is determined.

For those affected: memory clinics or memory consultations

In almost all larger cities, some facilities specialize in diagnosing and treating dementia diseases, such as memory consultation hours, memory outpatient clinics, or memory clinics. In memory consultations, experts from neurology, psychiatry, internal medicine, geriatrics, and psychology work together to thoroughly examine the patient and clarify the exact cause of the memory disorder.

The team summarizes the individual results in the “diagnosis conference” and evaluates them. The doctor in charge discusses the diagnosis in a detailed consultation with the person concerned and their relatives and discusses the therapy options. Many memory clinics also offer family support groups or discussion groups.


Early diagnosis enables the best possible therapy.

The fear of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s causes many people not to be examined at all. Medical advice is only sought when the symptoms are apparent, and the suffering of the affected person or their relatives is great. However, an early clarification would be helpful for easier handling of those affected and for appropriate treatment.

Although dementia cannot be cured, cholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA receptor blockers can at least slow down the progression of the disease. However, neurons in the brain that have already been destroyed cannot be restored.

Even if other diseases, such as encephalitis or a stroke, bring with them pathological forgetfulness, early diagnosis can help to alleviate the symptoms and prevent deterioration of the state of health if possible.


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