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Memory Problems and When to Seek Help

by Cindy Gray

We are all forgetful from time to time. Everybody has misplaced their car keys, forgotten to take their medicine or can’t remember a password.  As we age though, what these lapses in memory mean can be cause for concern.  What is normal age-related memory loss and what are memory problems?

What memory problems should you be concerned about?

Normal Age Related Memory Lapses

You may be telling someone about a great book you just finished and go completely blank on what the title is. Perhaps you find yourself in the garage with no idea what you went into it for, or suddenly can’t remember the street your friend lives on despite visiting her there for years.  While frustrating, these types of memory losses are part of normal aging and not cause for concern.

Minor memory lapses are not the same as dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  Severe memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging either. Our brains can create new brain cells regardless of age.  In a way your brain is much like your muscles, if you don’t exercise and strengthen them they become weak.  Your brain needs to be regularly challenged to maintain cognitive skills through reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing card games and even with physical exercises like playing golf, swimming or doing Tai Chi.

Related:  How Aerobic Exercise Battles Cognitive Decline and Dementia

Abnormal Memory Problems

There are several signs and symptoms it is time to seek medical attention when memory problems become so severe and frequent that they interfere with daily life.  Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment or MCI are:

  • Difficulty recalling the names of new acquaintances
  • Losing or misplacing things regularly
  • Being unable to follow the flow of a conversation
  • Frequently forgetting important things like doctor appointment, or planned social outings

If this is you or a loved one, it is time to seek medical attention for diagnosis as to what may be causing the memory lapses.

Dementia is a definite possibility if you or someone you know experiences:

  • Problems with finding the right words to express themselves
  • Mood changes like frequent anger, or the opposite, apathy or feeling depressed
  • Inability to perform normal everyday tasks like balancing their checkbook, figuring out how to run the dishwasher or unable to remember how to play a simple game like checkers
  • Frequent bouts of confusion about where they are, what day it is, who a loved one is, or where they normally sit at the dinner table
  • Repetitive behaviors like asking the same question over and over or obsessively collecting items they don’t need or bathing several times a day

A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is grim news and is much more important than just run of the mill memory problems. The person who is suffering from either will need a lot of support and encouragement at first, and eventually round the clock care.  There is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s but a doctor may prescribe certain drugs to try and slow down the progression of the symptoms. Staying active and socially engaged will help to ward off depression and relieve symptoms temporarily.

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