A lot of us have probably had that disturbing visit or phone call – our loved ones get confused, they can’t remember something we just talked about, or tell the same stories over and over…..
Of course, it may not be our loved ones we’re worried about, but ourselves. We walk into a room and can’t remember what we’re there for, we go through the list of four kids’ names before we get to the right one, we can’t find our car keys…..you get the point.
When this happens, how can we tell if it’s “normal” memory loss or something else?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, is a fairly common part of aging.” It’s not that unusual to temporarily forget someone’s name or misplace an item, and it’s even pretty common to forget why you walked into a room.
There’s a difference, though, in these normal, temporary lapses in memory and the memory loss that’s associated with dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other memory disorders.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America,
“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that impacts memory, thinking and language skills, and the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia itself is not a disease, but a term used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, loss of judgment and other intellectual functions. Alzheimer’s disease can cause dementia. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.“
Although each individual is different, and memory lapses can be completely normal, there are some common signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
First and foremost, memory loss that affects your daily life can be the first and most easily recognized sign of dementia.
Some other signs may include:
- Inability to remember recent events, familiar places, names, etc.
- Forgetting common words, or getting them confused with other words; ie, substituting the word ‘shoe’ for ‘jacket’
- Changes in mood or personality that don’t seem to have any reason behind them
- Asking the same questions over and over
- Taking longer to complete routine tasks – Mayo Clinic uses the example of following a recipe
- Struggling to do simple things such as tying one’s shoes or brushing their teeth
- Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting one’s keys in the refrigerator
- Not knowing where they are or being confused about the time
- Trouble judging situations
- Getting lost in familiar areas
These are also some of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease. If you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to discuss them with your healthcare professional.
Not all memory loss is permanent, though. There are many medical problems that can cause memory loss or symptoms that mimic dementia. Many of these may be reversible.
Reversible Causes of Memory Loss
Some of the possible causes of reversible memory loss may be:
- Head injury. We all know that concussions or Traumatic Brain Injuries can cause memory loss, but falls in which we hit our heads, even if we don’t lose consciousness, can also cause some memory loss.
- Medications. Many medications (or combinations of medications) can cause memory loss or confusion.
- Emotional Disorders. Things such as stress, depression, or anxiety can have an effect on our memory.
- Vitamin B-12 Deficiency. Vitamin B-12 Deficiency can be common in older adults and this can cause issues with memory.
- Hypothyroidism. Having an underactive thyroid can cause issues with memory and muddle our thinking.
What Should I Do If I’m Concerned?
If you’re concerned, either about your memory or a loved one’s, your first step should be to contact your Primary Care Physician. This should be the person who is most familiar with your medical history, the medications you take, and any health concerns you’re already being treated for. They’re in the best position to know whether what you’re experiencing is normal, or if it needs further action.
Your doctor may either administer a memory screening or refer you for one. To learn more about what a memory screening is, please visit https://alzfdn.org/memory-screening/what-is-memory-screening/.
Obviously, the signs and symptoms listed above are not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool; rather, they’re just a guideline to help you recognize potential issues.
The good news is, there are things we can do to help keep our brains healthy throughout our lives. To learn more about them, please check out my post How Healthy Is Your Brain?.
I don’t want to ask my usual questions here, because this is such a personal subject. Please know, if you or your loved one are experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone. There is help available – please reach out.
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www.alz.org Alzheimer’s Association