Noticing any sort of cognitive changes in a parent or family member and addressing them can be difficult. You want to ensure that your loved one is aware of these changes and that you can come up with a care plan together; however, you’re afraid that these signs might be nothing other than worrisome thoughts, and you don’t want to risk insulting them.

When it comes to cognitive impairment and forms of dementia, early detection is key. Receiving a diagnosis as soon as possible ensures your family member receives proper care and can delay the progression of their condition. 

At Community Senior Life, we understand that it can be difficult to gauge when to be concerned about memory loss, so our team is sharing insights that can help. 

Age-Related Memory Loss vs. Cognitive Decline

Before you begin to assess the circumstances that your parent or family member is facing, it’s essential to understand the difference between age-related memory loss and cognitive decline. As people grow older and begin to experience changes in their bodies, mild forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. For instance, an individual might notice that they don’t retain information as well as they used to, have difficulty learning new things, or have the occasional memory lapse.

Here’s an example of a normal, age-related memory change compared to that of cognitive decline:

Imagine your parent is about to leave their home and they forget where they placed their car keys. Perhaps they last left their keys in a different place than usual, like on the kitchen counter rather than the hook by the front door. This is an example of mild forgetfulness relating to aging. 

However, suppose your family member has placed their car keys in a strange or unusual place, like in the refrigerator or microwave. In that case, this is absolutely a cause for concern as this is not normal behavior.

In other words, the main difference between normal aging and developing a cognitive impairment is fairly noticeable once an individual has progressed past the earliest stages. It can be challenging, though, to immediately notice these changes when someone you love is experiencing the early stages. Here are a few other examples to keep in mind:

Money and Finances

If a loved one misses a monthly payment by accident or forgets to pay immediately on the due date, this is an example of age-related forgetfulness. However, if they have continuously fallen behind on their bill payments or are constantly making poor financial decisions, whether it be giving away large sums of money or falling for online monetary scams, this is a sign of cognitive decline.

Time and Dates

Everyone has moments where they can’t remember the exact date or time and have to ask a friend or a nearby acquaintance as a quick reminder. If your loved one asks you what day it is and responds to your answer with something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s right! This week feels as though it’s gone by so quickly!” then this is not an immediate cause for concern.

If they have started to lose track of the time of year, the week, or even the month, then it is definitely a sign that something more severe is occurring. 


Think back to a recent conversation with someone where you might have become tongue-tied or couldn’t find the exact word to use while describing something or telling a story. This is a perfect example of a memory lapse that individuals of all ages have experienced time and time again. 

However, a sign of severe memory loss in a loved one can look a bit different. Your family member might have difficulty getting any of their words out properly or resort to language or phrases that are simply inappropriate for social settings.

Addressing Memory Concerns

If someone you love is experiencing regular problems with their memory, it’s important to address your concerns and let them know that you’re here for them. Not only does it allow them to feel seen and safe, but it can also help them while searching for support

Before starting the conversation, pick a familiar and non-threatening environment so you both feel comfortable during this discussion. Ask your family member if they’ve noticed any unusual changes in their behavior or mental health recently, and bring up the things that you’ve noticed. Be sure to choose your words carefully; do not use phrasing that could come off as judgmental, and stay reassuring throughout the conversation.

With compassionate services unlike any other memory care facility, our team at Community Senior Life is here to help. If you’re wondering when to be concerned about memory loss, no matter what stage your loved one is experiencing, you can rest assured that they’ll receive the support that they deserve.

Discover a Community Senior Life memory care facility near you today, and contact a member of our team for more information.