You forget someone’s name. You lose your keys. You struggle to think of a common word.
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It’s upsetting but we all forget things more often as we get older. So how can you tell if your little memory lapses are a normal part of aging or an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease?
Experts say forgetfulness is worth looking into when it affects your day-to-day life. That’s when you want to see a doctor.
“We want to take a closer look at people when they are having difficulty handling daily life as easily as they did before,” says neurologist Jagan Pillai, MD, PhD. “Trouble managing medications, or their shopping list, paying bills, dressing yourself, making meals and attending to hygiene could reflect changes in the brain,” he says.
Sometimes people put off looking into problems, but it is important to check into it early to see if the cause is reversible or not – especially because forgetfulness does not always mean Alzheimer’s disease.
“If you notice consistent difficulties over six months, and it is affecting your quality of life, it is good to have it checked,” says Dr. Pillai.
Alzheimer’s disease or normal aging?
As most people age, they can find strategies to cope with changes in their thinking. Their ability to handle their life independently is seldom affected by normal changes unless they also have physical frailties.
The changes listed below can be a normal sign of aging or they can be symptoms of changes in your brain, including Alzheimer’s. Report any of these to your doctor, especially if you have more than one of these symptoms and the problem doesn’t go away over time:
- Vision problems
Some people with Alzheimer’s develop problems judging the distance between two objects, or seeing color and contrast. Reading might become difficult.
- Trouble making plans or following directions
With Alzheimer’s, as your brain changes, it can be hard to work out the logistics of a busy day, pay bills or even make a familiar recipe. You might get lost driving to a familiar place or forget how to play a favorite game.
- Having a hard time communicating
This goes beyond struggling to find the right word every so often. If you have Alzheimer’s, you might use the wrong word or a made-up name for a familiar object. You might lose track of your thoughts, have trouble following a conversation, or repeat yourself.
- Personality changes
People who have Alzheimer’s sometimes withdraw from their friends or favorite activities and can become depressed, angry, suspicious or scared. They might get upset more easily than in the past.
- Losing things
Misplacing things often happens in everyone’s life, but when it is consistent and you cannot formulate a plan to to retrace your steps, it is a problem worth looking into more carefully.
- Poor judgment
People with Alzheimer’s often let their hygiene lapse; bad decisions about whether food is still good to eat, how to spend money, and who to trust are common.
- Memory loss
Some memory loss is normal with age, so it can be hard to know when it is cause for concern. When forgetting things is stopping you from enjoying your activities and you find yourself limiting yourself from the things you are used to, it is worth getting checked out. Losing track of what season it is and forgetting where you are or how you got there, are also red flags that are seen more often with Alzheimer’s disease.
Safety is paramount if a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better. But not all forgetfulness is Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about any of these symptoms if they persist.