Are your memory problems something to be concerned about?

May 26, 2016 | by Hurmina Muqtadar, MD

Are you or a loved one having problems paying bills, keeping track of personal belongings, or remembering appointments? Are you wondering if it’s a just a normal part of aging or something more?

It can be difficult to tell normal memory problems from ones that are cause for concern. When a decline in mental abilities disrupts daily life, it’s called dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. The second most common type, vascular dementia, occurs after a stroke.

There are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Most are age 65 or older, but the disease can strike people younger than 65 years of age. So how can you tell if your problems are something to be concerned about?

Many people struggle with memory issues every now and then. Some people lose things from time to time and occasionally forget names or appointments but remember later.

Alzheimer’s is more than occasional memory loss. It’s a disease that destroys brain cells. When this happens, it slowly takes away a person’s ability to remember things, think and reason. Symptoms are more frequent and interfere with daily life.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s may include difficulty remembering recent conversations, names or events, and apathy and depression. Often, symptoms start out slowly and get worse. Some warning signs of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Recent or short term memory loss (can’t remember important dates, asks for the same information over and over)
  • Challenges in planning or problem solving (can’t follow a familiar recipe or keep track of bills)
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks (trouble driving to a familiar location)
  • Confusion with time or place (forgets where they are and how they got there)
  • Impaired visuospatial skills
  • Problems finding the right words (trouble following a conversation)
  • Misplacing things (unable to retrace steps)
  • Make poor decisions (poor judgment with money, less attention to grooming)
  • Social withdrawal (avoids participating in hobbies, social activities or work)
  • Changes in mood and personality (easily confused, suspicious or anxious)

Keep in mind, there are many other conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms, including vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects or other conditions that can reversed with treatment.

A diagnosis is based on a review of symptoms, medical history, physical exam, lab tests and other factors.

At this time, there is no curative treatment, but medications may help to lessen symptoms and improve quality of life. Some conditions that increase the risk of heart disease also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Regular exercise and a heart healthy diet may help to lower the risk of dementia.

If you or a loved one has problems with memory, thinking or learning that interfere with everyday life, contact a doctor. Early detection can help you explore treatments to mask the symptoms and plan for the future.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia.


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