If you’ve ever forgotten to show up for an appointment or forgotten a name or a common word, you’ll likely understand the concern about whether this predicts a more serious memory problem, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, it’s normal to forget things periodically as we age. But serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday tasks such as working, driving, or finding your way home.

How can you tell the difference?

The first thing you need to know is that mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, means you have more memory problems or thinking problems than others your age. Fortunately, people with MCI can generally care for themselves and can maintain their normal activities.

Another thing to remember is that MCI is considered a normal sign of aging. While it’s true that MCI may be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, the research is clear that not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s.

What Are The Signs Of MCI? 

  • Forgetting to attend important events or appointments
  • Losing things often
  • Having more trouble coming up with desired words than others your age

On the other hand, dementia is NOT a sign of normal aging.

Recognizing Dementia… 

Dementia is the loss of cognitive function – thinking, remembering, learning, reasoning, and behavioral abilities – to the point where it hinders quality of life and normal activities.

Many people think memory loss is the only sign of dementia. It’s not.

People with dementia also have problems with visual perception, paying attention, and language skills. Others have substantial personality changes, such as turning from being kind and loving, to becoming aggressive and mean.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in people over age 65.

Side-by-side – Normal aging vs. Alzheimer’s disease

Normal Aging Alzheimer’s disease
Making a bad decision occasionally. Making poor judgments or decisions most of the time.
Missing a monthly payment occasionally. Overall problems taking care of monthly bills.
Forgetting which day it is and remembering later. Frequently losing track of the date or time of the year.
Sometimes forgetting what word to use. Trouble carrying on a conversation at all.
Losing things once in a while. Losing things often and being unable to find them.

How To Improve Your Memory 

As you age, you can take steps to improve your memory to stay healthy and keep your mental skills sharp such as…

  • Exercise.
  • Follow a daily routine, including regular times for getting up and bedtime.
  • Learn a new skill– every day, say some experts.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools (including calendars online or offline).
  • Stay involved in activities that promote both mind and body wellbeing.
  • Place important things such as purse or wallet, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place every day.
  • Volunteer in your community, a local school, or place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Numerous studies show how social interaction leads to a healthy brain.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Sleep seven to eight hours per night.
  • Control your alcohol consumption.
  • Get help for ongoing depression.

In other words, make healthy lifestyle choices and stay active both physically and socially.

When Should Your Doctor Be Involved? 

If you or a loved one has trouble remembering recent events or thinking clearly, talk with a doctor.

Even though doctors realize that older adults have MCI, they often don’t ask about it. You may have to take the initiative. Your doctor can help assess the symptoms, perform tests, and try to discern the source of the problems. Sometimes it’s Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes it isn’t.

Other causes besides Alzheimer’s might include an infection, medication side effects, or depression. Once the cause is discovered, you and your doctor can decide on the best treatment plan.