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The Difference Between Forgetfulness and Dementia

Ever walked into a room and forgot why you were there? Or been in the middle of a conversation with a friend and forgot what you wanted to say? These moments are commonplace for a lot of us, but as we approach 65 and beyond, it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between what could be a brief moment of forgetfulness or the onset of Dementia. 

While no article can confirm without a doubt that you, or a loved one is in fact experiencing the symptoms of Dementia (this is reserved for a registered medical practitioner), we can distinguish between the signs of everyday forgetfulness and the common symptoms of Dementia to put our minds at ease.  

Events, names, words, objects or tasks

Briefly forgetting your attendance at an event, the name of an acquaintance, a descriptive word, an object or why you walked into a particular room is normal for any age. In fact, the act of walking into a room with purpose and forgetting that purpose as you walk over the threshold is so common that is has been thoroughly researched by scientist Gabriel Radvansky. Coined an ‘event boundary’, the brain compartmentalizes information and relates it to the room or environment in which the information was produced. By leaving that room the brain stores the information away to focus on the new room or environment you’ve entered, making it more difficult to remember why you moved into the second room in the first place. 

Radvansky concludes that this is a brain event that we can’t control, unless we repeat the task to ourselves until stepping into the new room. What we can deduce from this, is that these momentary lapses are a normal part of life. These moments can no longer be classified as just forgetfulness when the memories of events, names, words,objects or reasons for actions progressively get worse to the point where they are partially or fully forgotten and the brain can no longer retrieve them, even vaguely.

Actioning everyday tasks

For many of us that lead busy lives, it’s normal to briefly forget how to navigate to a certain place, or that you have a number of text messages to reply to. These are the normal consequences of being distracted, tired or unable to cope with the multiple tasks required of you everyday. According to Dementia Australia, “Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may leave the carrots on the stove and only remember to serve them when the meal has finished.” So, you aren’t the only one whose forgotten about something on the stove, it can happen to the best of us!

On the other hand, a person with Dementia could make an entire meal, and either forget to serve it or even forget they made it in the first place. The growing inability to successfully action familiar, everyday tasks is a symptom of the onset of Dementia and should not be ignored, particularly when it involves the use of cooking appliances. If this is the case, it might be time to consider some form of aged care.

Dementia Australia give us a number of other symptoms to look out for including:

  • Language problems: Inability to find appropriate words or use incorrect words to describe things
  • Disorientation: Forget where their house is or how they got to their current location 
  • Poor judgement: The ability to judge distances or situations effectively whilst driving
  • Losing items: Repeatedly placing items in the wrong places, and forgetting where they were placed
  • Behavioural issues: An increase in intense mood swings or irrational fears and suspicions

While keeping our brains active is one way to stave off the onset of Dementia, it can develop despite our best efforts. But, you might find that you’re going through a particularly stressful period and your brain is just showing signs of its tired state. If you or a loved are unsure whether the state of forgetfulness is normal or not, the guidelines above should put your mind at ease. If you’re still unsure, then a correct assessment by a doctor is vital.


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