Older and Wiser

Caregiver talking to resident outdoors

When is Simple Forgetfulness Something More?

We all forget little details now and then, like where we placed our keys or an item on our grocery list. This is normal and although can be frustrating, it doesn’t affect overall day to day functioning. Regardless of age, when we are stressed or fatigued it is not uncommon to forget the details. As a result, many of us develop techniques that we use to aid our memory including checklists, calendars, and “to-do lists”. But when should we become concerned that a loved one’s forgetfulness is becoming more?

As people age, the time it takes them to learn and retain new information may increase in length. However, with time and patience normal functioning older adults will be able to retain and recall information. 

Dementia is defined by the Alzheimer’s Association as the general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is just one symptom. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. 

Many seniors are fearful of memory loss. Research shows that there are steps one can take to promote a healthy brain. The Alzheimer’s Association offers these brain tips: 

Healthy brain tips:

Eat healthy: Foods rich in anti-oxidants and folic acid as well as water and fruit juice. Avoid fatty foods as well as caffeine and alcoholic beverages. 

  • Stay active: Activities which exercise both your body and brain.
  • Support system: Maintain a good support system that allows for social interaction.
  • Rest, relax, and sleep: Stress and lack of sleep can have negative effects on your body. Maintain balance within your life.
  • Visit your doctor: Annual physicals allow you to talk with your doctor, ask questions, and monitor your health and medications.

When memory loss becomes more significant

For some, memory loss can be more significant. When memory loss begins to interfere with day-to-day functioning the problem may be a warning sign of something more. For example: 

  • Difficulty managing medications
  • Significant weight loss due to missed meals
  • Frequent hospitalizations due to noncompliance with medication regime
  • Inability to organize finances; overdrawn accounts, vulnerable to scams
  • Disorganized household, decreased cleanliness
  • Failure to meet deadlines at work

Family, friends, and acquaintances should take note when a significant change in skill, routine, or behavior occurs, particularly if the person is very different than before the change. For example, when an accountant can no longer add 2+2 or a computer programmer cannot remember how to turn on the computer.

It is important to note that any one of the issues mentioned above alone does not signify memory loss. Instead, it offers a “red flag” which warrants additional attention and investigation.

What to do if memory loss is suspected?

Whenever memory loss is suspected the first step is to see a physician. Your primary physician can refer you to a specialist who can work to identify the cause of the memory loss. Generally, your physician may refer you to a neurologist, internist, and/or a psychiatrist.

Why is a physician visit needed?

Memory loss can have numerous origins. Some medical conditions when left untreated can result in increased confusion and memory loss. As a result, an individual may be inaccurately diagnosed with a form of dementia when in fact they may have a medical condition such as thyroid problems, lack of Vitamin B12, drug reaction, infection, or depression. A physician will complete a range of tests identifying any treatable conditions and recommending appropriate treatment if it is warranted.

If the memory loss and confusion are due to a medical condition when treatment is provided the individual may notice a decrease or elimination of symptoms.