Changes in Mental Fuction that May Indicate Alzheimer's

A certain amount of forgetfulness is to be expected with age. Most people find it more difficult to recall names and words as they get older. This normal forgetfulness is by no means a symptom of Alzheimer's disease or dementia. The difference between the normal forgetfulness that increases with age—known as age-associated memory impairment—and dementia is that the former is frustrating but not disabling.

The memory lapses that characterize age-associated memory impairment are more likely to occur when a person is tired, sick, distracted or under stress. Under less stressful circumstances, the person is usually able to remember the necessary information with ease.

The Alzheimer's Association lists 10 warning signs that may signal Alzheimer's. A person who has difficulty in one or more of these areas should be evaluated:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 10 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 18 Jul 2013