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The Difference Between Normal Aging and Dementia

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A Note from the Editor

May 7, 2020, is National Older Adults Mental Health Awareness Day. Many older people will behave in a way that makes us wonder about their mental health. Sometimes the changes we notice are just part of the normal aging process. But they could also be the signs of emerging dementia. Today’s guest post will help you identify these signs so you can tell the difference.

National Older Adults Mental Health Awareness Day was established in 2018 to “hold a public discussion on the topics of mental health and aging specifically related to the prevention, treatment and recovery support options for older adults with mental or substance use disorders.”

This year, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are observing this day with an online event, National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day 2020: Combating Social Isolation for Seniors During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The event will feature a thoughtful discussion on ways to prevent social isolation and promote mental health for seniors during this unprecedented time.

Jay Boll
Editor in Chief

Aging is part of the natural process people go through in this life. It is something you cannot avoid. In the process of aging, there are different conditions people may experience that will affect their body, mind, and emotions. One of these conditions is dementia. However, you have to realize that not all signs and symptoms you may observe among your aging family members are related to dementia.

A significant decline in a person’s ability to think and reason is present in many symptoms of dementia, a condition that can affect a person’s daily life. It may cause problems not only with the way people make decisions for themselves but also in the way they deal with other people. To help you understand more about the difference between normal aging and different types of dementia, here is a list of contrasts and the comparisons of the two:

Task Completion

Normal Aging

In task completion and productivity, it is normal for people who are aging to become slower. They may feel bored in completing something, and their actions are slower, but they will still be able to complete the task correctly. They may tend to forget some steps at times, but they will get it right eventually.


People with dementia may experience problems related to the process. They may tend to forget the usual process for what they are doing. This is something that may result in not being able to complete the tasks they are attempting.


Normal Aging

For people who are aging normally, they might be a bit slower when it comes to problem-solving and making decisions. They may have a hard time juggling multiple tasks. As a result, you can expect them to make bad decisions once in a while. For instance, an older person may sometimes make poor decisions with family finances.


For a person with dementia, the confusion in planning and in deciding is easily observable. The person with dementia also experiences difficulty in concentrating. When it comes to bills and financial matters, it is harder for the person to keep track of these. This results from their poor judgment about money and risk.

Behavior and Mood

Normal Aging

Most older people are used to their routine and are very much concerned with keeping it. This is why they might sometimes get irritated when their routine is disrupted. Aside from that, they may feel tired of what they are doing or easily disappointed by the people around them. With this, you can expect that they may feel low or anxious at times.


Dementia patients may become withdrawn, and they may lose interest in the hobbies and tasks that they used to enjoy. Aside from that, they may feel sad and frightened, and they may develop low self-confidence. They may also get irritated about familiar people and places they don’t seem to recognize. There are also many other dementia behavior problems that caregivers will typically observe.

Vision Challenges

Normal Aging

As people age, they may experience different conditions that affect their senses. One of the conditions that often poses a challenge to older people is cataracts. As a person grows older, he or she may notice how the eyes become misty and vision becomes cloudy.


Dementia changes the way people perceive almost everything around them. For instance, someone with dementia may not be able to fully determine the distance of the stairs, and may also miscalculate different things such as reflections.

Time Disorientation

Normal Aging

One of the things that older people experience is getting confused about the day of the week. You’ll find them questioning what day it is. However, they may get confused, but they will be able to figure things out without too much trouble. In connection to this, they may sometimes forget why they went to a certain room or what they needed to get. These are all normal actions for people who are aging.


People with dementia face the risk of losing track of time, the day, and even the season. In connection to this, they may also forget a familiar place.

 Memory Loss

Normal Aging

It is normal for aging individuals to forget their appointments and other people’s names. They may also forget the things you told them. Misplacing some things is also normal. You will often find them looking for their glasses, mobile phone, and even the TV remote. But in doing so, they can retrace the steps they took and will be able to find the missing things eventually.


One of the symptoms of dementia is forgetting the names of family members and even their closest friends. Those with dementia also tend to forget events that just happened. Along with this, they may have the tendency to ask the same question over and over again. And when it comes to losing items, they may develop the habit of putting things in unusual places where it is difficult to find them. Memory loss is one of the most common reasons why families eventually have to seek help from local memory care facilities in the later stages of dementia.

 Language Fluency

Normal Aging

When you age, you’ll sometimes find it hard to concentrate or to keep up while conversing with people. The right words may sometimes be hard to find. When more than one person is talking, it can be confusing for the older person who is listening.


For someone who is suffering from dementia, you will often hear them refer to objects they have lost as ‘that thing.’ This is usually an indication that they have forgotten the right word to use. Aside from that, they will have a hard time grasping what is being talked about in a conversation. As a result, they become lost to what someone is saying.

Being able to know if someone has dementia or just experiencing things that are related to normal aging is very important. If your parents or other family members are experiencing dementia, they will surely need professional help. Some people are not doing anything about the condition of their family members because they are misinterpreting it as simple signs of aging. This is an important matter to address as people with dementia have a serious condition and are experiencing symptoms entirely different from those who experience normal aging.



About the Author: This post was written by Holly Klamer. She loves to write on issues related to memory care facilities  for seniors, assisted and senior living  and retirement and is a frequent contributor on many blogs and online publications

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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