Memory Loss: When Should You Seek Help For Yourself or a Loved One.
Now that the holidays have passed, did you notice a visiting loved one who seemed to be having trouble with their memory?
Everyone forgets things at some time. How often have you misplaced your car keys or forgotten the name of a person you just met?
Some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, is a fairly common part of aging.
There’s a difference, however, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Some memory problems are the result of treatable conditions. If you’re experiencing memory problems, talk to your doctor to get a timely diagnosis and appropriate care.
Memory loss and aging
Normal age-related memory loss doesn’t prevent you from living a full and productive life.
For example, you may forget a person’s name, but recall it later in the day. You might misplace your glasses occasionally. Or maybe you find that you need to make lists more often than in the past in order to remember appointments or tasks.
These changes in memory are generally manageable and don’t disrupt your ability to work, live independently or maintain a social life.
Memory loss and dementia
The word “dementia” is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms, including impairment in memory, reasoning, judgment, language and other thinking skills.
Dementia begins gradually in most cases, worsens over time and significantly impairs a person’s abilities in work, social interactions and relationships.
Often, memory loss is one of the first or more recognizable signs of dementia. Other early signs may include:
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Forgetting common words when speaking
- Mixing words up – saying “bed” instead of “table,” for example
- Taking longer to complete familiar tasks, such as following a recipe
- Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer
- Getting lost while walking or driving around a familiar neighborhood
- Undergoing sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason
- Becoming less able to follow directions
Reversible causes of memory loss
Many medical problems can cause memory loss or other dementia-like symptoms.
Possible causes of reversible memory loss include:
- Medications. A single medication or a certain combination of medications may result in forgetfulness or confusion.
- Minor head trauma or injury. A head injury from a fall or accident – even an injury that doesn’t result in a loss of consciousness – may cause memory problems.
- Depression or other mental health disorders. Stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities.
- Alcoholism. Chronic alcoholism can seriously impair mental abilities. Alcohol can also cause memory loss by interacting with medications.
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Vitamin B-12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. A vitamin B-12 deficiency – common in older adults – can cause memory problems.
- Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) slows the processing of nutrients to create energy for cells (metabolism). Hypothyroidism can result in forgetfulness and other thinking problems.
- Tumors. A tumor in the brain may cause memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms.
When to see your doctor
If you’re concerned about memory loss, see your doctor.
He or she can conduct tests to judge the degree of memory impairment and diagnose the cause.
Your doctor is likely to have a number of questions for you, and you will benefit by having a family member or friend along to answer some questions based on his or her observations.
Getting a prompt diagnosis is important, even if it’s a challenging step.
Identifying a reversible cause of memory impairment enables you to get appropriate treatment.