We’ve all had those moments where our minds have gone blank, we’ve completely forgotten the word for something or we can’t recall the name of the person who is waving to us in the grocery store. These moments can be scary and embarrassing, but they are generally no cause for concern. As your parents age, then, how can you tell the difference between normal memory loss or something more, such as the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, and dementia is a set of symptoms. While both include memory loss, they also involve many other symptoms, and the memory loss is persistent and invasive. Testing for Alzheimer’s and dementia is very limited at this time, so doctors identify symptoms when making a diagnosis.

Here are some of the things to look for in your parent. Please see a doctor if you feel that your loved one has more than normal memory loss.

  • Memory loss interferes with daily life. Your loved one doesn’t just forget the occasional name or word; they repeat the same things, forget important dates and events and can’t retain newly learned information.

  • Planning and solving problems is difficult. Making the occasional error is normal, but forgetting to pay bills, not remembering a familiar recipe or getting lost on the way home from shopping is not.

  • Confusion with times and places. Losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time is a cause for concern. This can result in the very frightening experience of having your loved forget how they ended up in a particular place, such as a holiday party.

  • Difficulty processing visual images. Your parent is older now, and their eyes may get more tired. But if they are having trouble distinguishing color and distance, this is a red flag. Plus, not being able to read signs anymore means that your loved one should not be driving.

  • Misplacing common things. We all misplace things – some of us do it a lot. But, we are able to retrace our steps and usually find what we are looking for. Those with dementia or Alzheimer’s cannot retrace their steps and lose things more frequently.

  • Poor judgement. Giving away money and a lack in self care is examples of what can happen when elders lose the ability to pass good judgement. Instead of making bad decisions occasionally, you may notice that your parent is making them often.

  • Social withdrawal. If your loved one has been saying no to their favorite activities, it’s important to find out why they are isolating themselves.

  • Mood and personality changes. People with cognitive impairment generally experience mood and personality changes. Some of the most common changes include feeling more anxious, depressed, fearful or confused.