We recognize that everyone has moments when they can’t remember something or someone. We do it ourselves. We walk through a doorway and forget why we came into the room—which is actually a perfectly normal thing for the brain to do.
As we get older, however, what was once common begins to take on ominous tones. We jokingly call it a “senior moment” or Alzheimer’s—while also silently worrying that it might really be so. So how are we to tell the difference between the two? What are the real warning signs of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?
What is normal forgetfulness?
Occasional lapses in memory are a normal part of the aging process beginning as early as age 45 and can easily be attributed to stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep or other reasons that may be temporary or easily reversible. This can include such day-to-day things as:
- Occasionally forgetting where you left items such as glasses or car keys
- Forgetting the name or acquaintance or even “blocking” a memory, such as calling your grandson by your son’s name
- Becoming easily distracted and forgetting what you just read
- Having something you’re trying to remember “on the tip of your tongue,” unable to retrieve it
- Forgetting old memories over a period of time
- Being aware that a memory problem exists
When does memory loss become a warning sign of dementia?
When memory problems become noticeable to others and begin to affect your daily routine, however, this may be a sign of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is an intermediate stage between normal memory loss and more serious symptoms that could eventually lead to dementia. While the individual can still function well enough in their daily life with MCI, it can include such things as:
- Frequently losing or misplacing items
- Regularly forgetting conversations, appointments or events
- Difficulty remembering the names of people you’ve just met
- Becoming more reliant on notes and day-planner
While many people with MCI eventually develop Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Some people plateau, while other return to normal. Generally, however, the greater the degree of memory impairment, the greater the risk.
What are the warning signs of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?
When memory loss becomes so severe that it impacts your daily life by disrupting work, social activities and/or relationships, MCI may be moving on to dementia. This is evident in a persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, judgment, language or abstract thinking. The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s or another dementia that may include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
When should I go to the doctor if I have concerns about memory loss?
It’s time to consult a doctor when memory issues occur frequently enough or are noticeable enough to concern family or friends. But keep in mind that memory loss doesn’t automatically mean dementia. Some memory conditions may be the result of other medical conditions that can be treatable or even curable.
When you visit, the doctor will want to know what medications are being taken, if anything has happened to cause depression or stress lately and will what other symptoms have been occurring. Even if the physician determines it is the onset of dementia, early diagnosis can lessen the decline in vascular dementia or improve the quality of life if it is determined to be Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
While occasional lapses in memory are common as we journey along the gray mile, they can be worrisome the more they occur. When they are frequent enough to concern others, it worth a visit to a doctor to alleviate any concerns. It may not be an indicator of dementia. Poor memory just could be the result of other medical conditions that can be treatable or even curable.