We have all encountered instances where we forgot a person’s name or misplaced certain items, but when is forgetfulness due to normal ageing and when could it be a sign of early dementia? Read on to find out.

“Memory lapses can be a normal part of life, especially as we age. A key warning sign that it may be an early sign of dementia is when forgetfulness and confusion affect daily activities,” explains Dr Ng Kok Pin, Senior Consultant from the Department of Neurology at National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), a member of the SingHealth group.

Dementia describes a group of symptoms such as memory loss, impaired judgment, confusion and behavioural changes, which are severe enough to cause loss of function.

Dementia is not part of normal aging, though the elderly are more prone. Dementia occurs when the brain function gradually fails, affecting day-to-day activities. Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia.

Early diagnosis and treatment of dementia can help patients and their families adapt to their condition and receive the support they need to maximise their quality of life with dementia.

Early dementia symptoms vs normal ageing

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

  • Forgetting information you have recently learnt

  • Forgetting important dates or events, e.g. birthdays and appointments

  • Asking the same question repeatedly

  • Having to rely more on memory aids, e.g. sticky notes, reminders

Normal ageing: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.

2) Difficulty planning or solving problems

  • Problems following a plan, e.g. a familiar recipe

  • Difficulty with numbers, e.g. tracking monthly expenses

  • Taking longer to do things than before

Normal ageing: Making occasional mistakes when managing finances or household bills.

3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks 

  • At work, e.g. arranging a meeting

  • At home, e.g. writing a grocery list, driving to familiar locations

  • For leisure, e.g. following the rules of games such as mahjong and golf

Normal ageing: Occasionally needing help to use an electrical appliance or forgetting an item from the grocery list.

4) Confusion with time or place

  • Trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately

  • Forgetting where you are or how you got there

Normal ageing: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5) Trouble understanding pictures and distance

  • Difficulty reading

  • Problems judging distance, e.g. when parking a car

  • Problems seeing colours or contrast affecting driving ability

Normal ageing: Poor vision caused by eye conditions such as cataracts

6) Problems with speaking or writing

  • Trouble following a conversation

  • Stopping in the middle of a conversation

  • Difficulty finding the right word and/or names of familiar objects

Normal ageing: Sometimes having problems finding the right word, especially words that are not used often.

7) Misplacing items

  • Losing items and being unable to retrace steps to find them again

  • May accuse others of stealing, especially as dementia progresses

Normal ageing: Misplacing things such as keys or pens from time to time and being able to retrace steps to find them

8) Decreased or poor judgement

  • Poor judgement when dealing with money

  • Paying less attention to self-care and grooming

Normal ageing: Making a mistake once in a while

9) Withdrawal from work or social activities

  • Giving up usual hobbies

  • Avoiding usual social activities with family or friends

Normal ageing: Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social gatherings

10) Changes in mood and personality

  • Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious

  • Easily upset or agitated

Normal ageing: Has a usual way of doing things and becoming irritated when routine is disrupted.

If you or a loved one displays any of the above-mentioned signs, do visit your family doctor or a polyclinic for further assessment.

Watch the video!


Ref: K21

Check out other articles on dementia:

6 Natural Ways to Prevent Dementia

7 Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Young Onset Dementia: Dementia That Affects the Young

Dementia in Singapore: Fast Facts

Dementia: What You Need to Know

Dementia Caregiver Tips: Do's and Don'ts

Dementia and Depression: Is There a Link?

Brain Diseases: Early Signs to Look Out For