Is My Trouble Remembering Due to Aging or Alzheimer’s?
When are memory lapses a normal part of aging, and when are they potentially an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease? A geriatric medicine specialist explains.
You forget someone’s name. You lose your keys. You have delays in recalling words and names. Or what you want to say “just on the tip of your tongue.”
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So how can you tell if your memory lapses are a normal part of aging — or an early sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?
Some memory complaints do occur frequently as you get older. Losing keys or not remembering names are usually a normal part of your aging process. Health experts say these are normal aging experiences.
But geriatrician Ronan Factora, MD, says it’s also extremely important to make sure you aren’t blaming other kinds of memory trouble on “just getting older.”
“Memory concerns shouldn’t affect your ability to remain independent or perform your daily life activities. Forgetfulness should definitely be looked into by your doctor when it starts to alter your day-to-day life,” Dr. Factora says. “They’ll want to take a closer look to see if you’re able to do common tasks as easily as you did before to make sure there aren’t deeper problems,” he says.
It can be hard to know when to be concerned about your memory. Maybe you have too many other medical problems that distract you from bringing up your memory issues to your doctor. But it’s never a good idea to overlook your mental health.
“Losing track of what season it is, for example, or forgetting where you are (or how you got there) are red flags you should talk to your doctor about, as these are seen more often with Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Factora says.
Report those types of concerns and any of the following to your doctor, especially if you have more than one of these symptoms and they aren’t going away over time:
Though often dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be the cause with memory complaints, there can be other reasons.
“Don’t put off talking to your doctor. Doing it early enough will help identify if the cause is reversible or not, since forgetfulness doesn’t always mean Alzheimer’s disease — and you want to make sure any other causes are being treated properly,” Dr. Factora says.
When you get to your doctor’s appointment, a basic appointment will include a review of your memory or cognitive issues, how long the problems have been happening and any other mood, behavioral or movement problems you may be having.
Cognitive testing (such as a Folstein Mini-Mental State Examination or Montreal Cognitive Assessment) may be performed to document the presence and severity of the cognitive concerns.
A screening for depression also may be performed, along with routine blood work. A CT scan of your brain also could be performed to exclude other problems.
“If you notice problems over six months and it’s affecting your quality of life, it’s crucial you have it checked,” Dr. Factora says. “The ultimate goal is to preserve your independence and to plan ahead if you need assistance.”