At one time or another, nearly everyone misplaces their keys, glasses, or other items. Anyone stressed or taking certain medications can become somewhat forgetful, which is more common among senior citizens. It’s often a temporary issue that resolves on its own. However, long-term memory loss and personality changes can signal health problems like dementia.
In California alone, 7.3% of citizens over 45 experience some cognitive issues. Mild forms of memory loss typically require little intervention. But, if forgetfulness is linked to dementia, it can require medical intervention or even a move to a community offering memory care. A doctor can determine the issue’s seriousness and recommend treatment.
Normal Aging or Serious Memory Problems?
People of all ages forget things due to lack of sleep, stressful situations, or juggling too many things simultaneously. The issue often becomes more frequent with age, and it’s common for seniors to have difficulty remembering names or learning new skills. These types of incidents are not usually a cause for alarm.
Recently, awareness of dementia and memory care for seniors has increased as medical professionals learn more about the issue. A certain amount of forgetfulness is often a normal part of aging, not a disease symptom. Like the rest of the body, the brain is affected by age, and even healthy seniors can sometimes not remember little details. Memory loss is only a problem if it impacts the quality of life.
According to The National Institute on Aging, there are crucial differences between routine forgetfulness and problems like Alzheimer’s. A healthy person might not remember the correct word and occasionally lose things. Normal aging can cause seniors to sometimes make a poor decision, miss a payment, or even forget the current date and then remember it later.
In contrast, those developing dementia routinely make poor decisions, have difficulty managing bills, lose track of time, and struggle to hold conversations. They often misplace things and are unable to locate them. These symptoms may be caused by medical or emotional issues or disease. When the underlying problem is dementia, the condition will progress, and older adults eventually require the help of professionals who provide memory care.
Discussing Memory Issues with a Doctor
When a senior has recurring memory problems, it’s essential to check with a doctor to determine whether there is a serious problem. There can be many causes for poor memory, and not all are permanent. A thorough medical exam can uncover hidden issues. Whether an older adult lives at home or in a senior living community, determining the reason for memory loss is crucial.
For example, there are reversible reasons for memory issues. Medication, hypothyroidism, or a B12 deficiency can all cause forgetfulness. Per the Mayo Clinic, brain disease, head injuries, and emotional disorders may also be culprits. Independent or assisted living communities can arrange to have residents evaluated for these issues as part of their support for seniors.
It’s a good idea for a friend or family member to accompany an older adult to a doctor’s visit to provide information a senior can’t remember. During an exam, a doctor will ask questions to help determine the reason for memory loss and whether the problem is severe. Seniors are asked questions that include:
- What medications do they take
- When problems began
- Whether they are taking a new drug
- Which tasks have become more difficult
- How much alcohol do they drink
- Whether they have been sick recently
- Whether they have fallen or had a head injury
- If they are depressed or recently experienced a stressful event
A doctor will perform a careful physical exam that may include brain scans. They have tests that gauge the degree of memory loss and the cause. These include question-and-answer tests that demonstrate thinking skills.
Benefits of An Early Diagnosis
Living with memory loss or dementia is not easy, but getting an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible is very important. Many causes for memory loss are reversible, and early diagnosis ensures seniors get the proper treatment. Understanding and treating symptoms impacts the quality of their life.
Doctors often refer older adults to specialists like neurologists, psychiatrists, or geriatricians to uncover the reason for memory loss. Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment or dementia early makes it possible to begin treatments. Seniors and family members can learn about the condition and begin to make plans.
For instance, families can discuss the best senior living options to consider as the condition progresses. They have time to decide on in-home care or an assisted living community. It’s also a chance to review financial matters.
A certain amount of forgetfulness is common with aging, but some memory loss is linked to conditions like dementia. A medical professional needs to evaluate seniors to determine the cause of memory issues and whether the problem can be reversed. A doctor can also help families and seniors decide on care options for progressive memory issues.