Aging Neurology

Is Memory Loss a Cause for Concern?

Your loved one has been forgetting things lately – where he or she placed the car keys, an appointment, or even a friend’s name.  Are these memory lapses a sign of normal aging or could they be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Some 4.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and symptoms typically begin to appear after age 60.  Alzheimer’s affects parts of the brain that control memory and language; however, occasional forgetfulness doesn’t always mean someone has Alzheimer’s.  If it happens regularly, however, it could be cause for concern.

When to see the doctor

If your loved one shows any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with his or her health care provider:

  • Forgetting things, especially information learned recently
  • Forgetting common words and using odd words in their place
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Having trouble with everyday tasks
  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Having sudden, unexplained mood swings or dramatic personality changes
  • Ignoring personal safety
  • Regularly repeating the same story, word for word
  • Struggling to solve simple math problems, pay bills or balance a checkbook
  • Neglecting to bathe/change clothes
  • Misplacing items in odd places
  • Constantly checking or hoarding things of no value

Other reasons for memory loss

These symptoms don’t always mean Alzheimer’s disease.  Your loved one’s provider should check for other conditions that may cause memory problems, such as drug interactions, fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, poor nutrition, thyroid problems and minor head injuries.  Stress, anxiety and depression can also make a person forgetful.  In these cases, memory loss is temporary and can be improved with proper treatment.

Here are some tips for keeping a sharp mind:

Keep your mind active

Much of the research now states that it is important for older adults with mental health problems and their caregivers to practice healthy lifestyles that help reduce stress and maintain physical and mental health.  Studies show that the effects of aging are minimized by staying mentally alert, intellectually curious, physically active, and socially active.  As much as possible, individuals should continue with their daily routines.  When these routines become difficult or one can no longer enjoy their past interests, it may be the best time to meet with your physician.

Socialize with friends – especially online!

Many older adults keep their minds active with the use of computers.  Connecting with friends online through programs like Skype keeps individuals in communication with loved ones who live far away.  Local councils on aging also provide a wide variety of free group activities for socialization along with mental stimulation.  

Stimulate your brain

Sometimes it is something as simple as a card game or a jig saw puzzle, but the important point is to remember the old adage “use it or lose it.”  When recently discussing this topic with a group of seniors, one of the seniors related to the topic by remembering how during summer vacation, school children used to never pick up a book – then when they came back to school, they had to start all over.  It is the same principal here.


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