At some point we've all had times of forgetfulness or misplacing things. Our keys get lost or we draw a blank trying to remember where the car is parked or what we just ate for breakfast. We can usually sort it out and remember things with some time and patience. But when is forgetfulness or memory loss of concern?
Serious memory problems can be disabling and make it hard to accomplish routine tasks without help. This is different from the occasional forgetfulness that comes with aging. Memory loss that disrupts routines and activities of daily living is concerning, and caregivers should know it may signal a change in a person's condition.
If you are worried about memory loss, that is reason enough to see your doctor. Seeing a primary care physician, or PCP, who already knows you is a good place to start. Signs that it may be time to see a doctor may include:
- Trouble speaking or misusing common words
- Confusion about time, people, and places
- Feeling lost in familiar areas or residence
- Not caring for oneself or others as usual
- Unexplained changes in behavior and mood
- Not realizing unsafe or dangerous situations
- Repeating the same questions over and over
- Returning common items to unusual places
- Trouble following plans or routine tasks
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and memory loss in older adults. If you are worried that changes in your memory may be related to dementia, you should talk with your doctor about it. There are medications that can temporarily ease some of the symptoms of dementia. Caregivers should also know that memory loss doesn't automatically mean someone has Alzheimer's or dementia. Other health problems can also affect memory, including stroke and Parkinson's disease, and many conditions that can affect our ability to be alert and access memory. Caregivers should be observant of changes in memory or memory loss that can come from medication side effects and know how to intervene.
Caregivers can also encourage individuals to do things that may help with memory such as:
- Doing mentally stimulating puzzles and games
- Socializing and connecting with others
- Exercising mind and body together
- Stopping or limiting alcohol intake
- Reducing over the counter medications
- Eating a healthy diet and keeping hydrated
- Staying organized with a “to-do list”
- Sleeping well for better alertness and recall
- Doing new fun things and pursuing interest
Individuals with chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, kidney or thyroid problems, respiratory and heart disease, should follow through with their doctor's treatment, and understand how compliance can be a risk factor for memory loss. Changes in memory can disrupt our routines. But the better we care for ourselves the more likely our memory will serve us well. Talk your doctor about changes in memory and your concerns. And while you’re at it, put a check mark on your to-do list that it’s done!