Memory Loss: Age-related forgetfulness or something else?

Relax (a little). Not all memory loss is caused by dementia.

Okay, which is it? Memory loss or forgetfulness? Normal aging includes some forgetfulness for most people, so relax (a little). Our brains do get old, like every other part of our bodies.  Do you have those senior moments? You know the ones:

Looking for the reading glasses propped on your head

Going into a room and not remembering why you went there

Leaving your grocery list at home

Losing your car keys

While some brains are more affected by normal aging than others, you may be concerned about having too many senior moments. Others may be telling you another family member is losing his/her memory. Ignoring concerns like these may mean delaying needed help. People suffering memory loss can feel isolated, afraid, and unable to talk about their concerns.  Some develop ways to compensate so friends and family won’t worry about them, leaving the problem undetected.  This can leave them vulnerable and at risk.

Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms related to memory loss.

Memory loss associated with aging is not the same thing as disease-related memory loss.  People who suffer with dementia lose memory faster.  The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America website is one helpful resource to learn more about disease-related memory loss:

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

Keep in mind that not all memory problems are a result of dementia. Other causes can be involved, including vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, urinary tract infections, medication side effects, stress, and depression.

Memory screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness, but to determine if memory impairment is a problem

So how can you tell if you or your loved one is experiencing memory problems that are cause for concern? A simple series of questions can help you know if there is cause for concern. The General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG) is one of several simple assessment tools designed to help identify potential disease-related memory loss, but please note:

Memory screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness and does not replace consultation with a qualified physician or other healthcare professional.

If you don ‘t have an assessment tool, then you can simply ask questions that do not allow a yes or no response.  Instead of asking, “Did you eat breakfast today?” you can ask something more like “Tell me what you ate this morning.” Rather than, “Did you talk to Aunt Mabel yesterday?” try asking “What did Aunt Mabel tell you?”  Ask “What’s the date today?” or “Who is the president?”

Here’s the memory loss bottom line: If you  worry about memory loss in yourself or someone you care about or if someone expresses concern for you or someone you know, then don’t wait.  Schedule an appointment with a provider who is qualified to do a thorough memory assessment.

Do it sooner rather than later.