Many older adults worry about their memory, especially if they notice an increase in forgetting things, such as appointments or where they placed their keys. Some decline in memory and even thinking abilities is fairly common for older adults. However, there is a difference between memory loss and dementia. As we age, we may need additional help with daily tasks, such as paying bills or purchasing groceries. If memory issues begin to disrupt daily life, it may not be normal and could be a sign of something more serious.
There are a few ways to recognize the difference between normal memory loss and memory issues that may require medical attention. If you’re unsure if your forgetfulness is normal, consider the following signs to inform your next steps:
Signs of age-related memory loss:
- Misplacing an item, such as keys or glasses
- Forgetting to pay bills on time
- Missing doctors’ appointments
- Repeating names or forgetting names
- Forgetting to take medications on time
- Occasionally missing meals
Signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia:
- Getting lost going to the grocery store or other places you frequently visit
- Struggling to make conversation—can’t find the right words
- Loss of interest or no recollection of showering or bathing
- Forgetting where you’re going in your own home
- Losing awareness of potentially dangerous activities, like leaving the stove on
- Touching a hot item—just out of the oven or off the stove—loss of realization that it could be hazardous to touch
- Taking medications inappropriately or not at all
Keep in mind that as we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to take in, retain, and learn new information. You may consider using tools like weekly pill boxes, calendars, automatic payments, and notebooks for writing down important things. If you’re having signs of memory loss that mimic those of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you should consult your healthcare provider right away. However, it’s important to stay calm. There are many different reasons you may be experiencing memory loss and forgetfulness that may not be linked to dementia.
What causes memory loss and forgetfulness?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of conditions that can cause memory loss in older adults. In fact, many medical problems can cause dementia-like symptoms, most of which can be treated or reversed. According to the Mayo Clinic, possible causes of reversible memory loss include:
- Medications. It’s common for older adults to need one or more medications to manage their health. However, certain medications or a combination of medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion.
- Minor head trauma. Older adults are at an increased risk of falling and becoming injured after falling. A head injury from a fall or an accident can cause short- and long-term memory issues.
- Emotional disorders. Unaddressed feelings of anxiety and depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and other problems that disrupt daily activity.
- Alcoholism. Chronic alcoholism can impair mental abilities and cause memory loss, especially when consumed with medications.
- Brain disease. A tumor, mass, or infection in the brain can cause memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms.
- Sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can cause memory problems that improve with treatment.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
It’s important to recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially if you’re noticing changes in your memory. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider. An early diagnosis can help you manage your symptoms and create a network of support. Here are the signs to look for, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Challenges in planning or problem-solving. Those with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan and work with numbers. Familiar tasks may take much longer than they did before.
- Confusion with time or place. Alzheimer’s disease can cause individuals to lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Sometimes individuals may forget where they are or how they got there.
- Problems with vision. Some individuals experience vision problems early on in the disease. This can cause issues with reading, balance, and driving a vehicle.
- New problems with speaking or writing. Those with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble contributing or following a conversation. They may get lost in the middle of a discussion or struggle to find the right words.
- Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unlikely places and have trouble retracing their steps to find them again. As the disease progresses, it’s common for those with Alzheimer’s disease to accuse others of stealing.
- Decreased judgment. Individuals may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. Managing money or maintaining proper hygiene can become difficult.
Next Steps with Memory Loss
If you notice symptoms and behaviors that are similar to those linked with Alzheimer’s disease, you should contact your primary care physician. An early diagnosis will allow you to get the support you need early on in the disease. At your doctor’s appointment, your physician will most likely use a series of tests to determine a diagnosis.
If you’re experiencing normal age-related memory loss, there are tools designed to help you cope with forgetfulness. Technology, such as virtual assistant devices, allow you to set reminders and alarms to help you stay on track. You may also consider asking your physician for additional resources.
Memory Loss at Inspīr Carnegie Hill
At Inspīr, we know how challenging memory loss can be, especially for older adults. Our highly trained staff offers tools and techniques to live with memory loss without sacrificing independence. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us today!
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