WHEN SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT YOUR MEMORY?

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When are lapses in memory normal, and when are they symptoms of cognitive decline? Each week I seem to speak with someone who is worried about memory loss. They report problems remembering people’s names, being more easily distracted, taking longer to do projects, or standing in front of the refrigerator not remembering what they are trying to find.

They are worried that they may be experiencing early Alzheimer’s. However, just as people’s physical reaction times slow as they get older, cognitive functioning also slows down. So what should make you worry, and when is it best to shake off your concern?

NORMAL AGING

Dr. Robert Stern, Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, provides helpful guidance on this topic. As people age, it is normal to take longer to find the right word, or to remember someone’s name. These are examples that can cause frustration, but they are generally not something to be worried about.

ABNORMAL AGING

Signs that you are experiencing something more serious than normal aging include:

  • Not being able to remember an important event that happened in the very recent past
  • Not being able to retrieve the right word or name even when given hints or more information to help find the word
  • Getting lost while driving in a familiar area
  • Having on-going trouble with organization and planning
  • Having difficulty executing routine tasks that one used to perform easily, such as balancing a check book or cooking a meal
  • Putting objects in inappropriate places, such as clothes in the freezer

WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOUR MEMORY LAPSES ARE NOT NORMAL

If you think that your memory problems are not normal, make an appointment with your doctor.  A good evaluation will include a thorough physical work up as well as a test of your cognitive skills.   Standard tests will measure the presence and extent of cognitive impairment. They will also serve as a baseline for the future.

If the tests indicate cognitive impairment, the physician should rule out curable causes. Low thyroid levels, vitamin deficiencies, hydrocephalus, and adverse drug reactions can all cause cognitive problems, and are treatable. So if you cannot shake your worries, go get tested.

 

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