When Should You Be Concerned About Memory Loss?

Older man

You can’t remember someone’s name. You misplaced your keys. You forgot to pay a bill. You took a wrong turn on a familiar road. Should you be worried that you’ve got Alzheimer’s disease or some other cause of dementia?

As we age, it’s normal to experience some degree of memory loss. Normal forgetfulness does not seriously interfere with your work or everyday activities. When it’s caused by dementia it does. Darlene Field, an Alzheimer Care Consultant in southern Maine says that normal forgetfulness is occasionally not remembering:

  • Names or appointments
  • “Tip of your tongue” information
  • Where you put your keys or glasses

Common things that can affect memory and are not related to age or dementia

  • Inattention
  • Vision or hearing deficits
  • Illness, fatigue or stress
  • Substance abuse

When someone has dementia, memory loss is usually not the only sign that something is wrong.

Dementia warning signs

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

If you have questions or are worried about any of the warning signs, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Fortunately, many causes of dementia are reversible.

Reversible causes of dementia

  • Depression
  • Infections
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Medication complications
  • Metabolic imbalance

The sooner the cause of dementia symptoms is known the sooner treatment can begin. Even people with Alzheimer’s disease, which tops the list of irreversible causes of dementia, may benefit from medications in the early stages.

Irreversible causes of dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease (50%)
  • Vascular dementia, usually caused by strokes (20%)
  • Both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (20%)
  • Rare disorders, such as fronto-temporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Huntington’s disease.

Forgetting Doesn’t Automatically Mean Dementia

Darlene uses this chart to help people distinguish between normal memory loss that comes with age and memory loss caused by dementia.

Memory loss chart

One other example Darlene shares that may be helpful is that with normal forgetfulness, you usually remember that you forgot something — it will come to you later. With dementia, you don’t remember that you have forgotten.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.