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Age Related Memory Loss Verses Alzheimer's

Many adults worry about their memory as they get older, and anytime they forget something they are afraid it might be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging, and not all lapses in memory indicate Alzheimer's disease.

The ability to save and recall recent information does decline slightly as you age. But vocabulary, general knowledge and recall of past events do not. Brain cell connections and communication slow down with age. Also, there is more information stored in your brain as you age, which can make retrieval slower.

It is important to understand that memory is comprised of two parts- saving and retrieving. If you don’t save information then you cannot retrieve or recall it later.  Momentary lapses in memory, often called “senior moments,” happen to most people at any age and are normal. Not being able to come up with a specific word (“tip of the tongue phenomenon”) or remember a name is normal if it happens occasionally. If it occurs often throughout your day and is increasing in frequency and bothering you, then you should speak with your doctor.

“I always forget where I put my keys. Should I be worried”?

If you forgot where you put your keys when you were in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and now you are 75 years old and forgetting where your keys are, it does not indicate you have a memory problem. We are more concerned with a change in your memory. However, if you find the keys in unusual places, such as the silverware drawer or the pantry, then you may want to talk to your doctor.

“I am often in my kitchen and need to go into another room to get something. When I get to the other room, I stand in the doorway and can’t remember what I came for.”

This is a common concern and affects all ages, not just the elderly. You may have been preoccupied or thinking of other things so you were not focused on what you went to get. You typically go back to what you were doing to jog your memory of what you needed in theother room. If you had Alzheimer's or a memory problem, you may not think to go back to what you were doing and jog your memory. Instead, you may just go do something else. 

“What should I do if I notice changes in my own or my loved one’s memory?”

If you are concerned about changes in your memory or your loved one’s memory, then it would be beneficial to see a doctor. There are many other causes of memory loss other than Alzheimer's disease. Many of these can be treated and the memory loss may be reversed.

  • Depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Alcohol
  • Thyroid problems
  • Poor diet
  • Vitamin B deficiencies
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hearing loss
  • Pain
  • Lack of concentration
  • Distraction

Are there specific warning signs of Alzheimer's disease to look for?

The following are the warning signs for Alzheimer's. Not everyone exhibits all of these, especially early on, and they do not occur in a particular order.

  • Asking the same question over and over.
  • Repeating the same story, word for word.
  • Forgetting how to cook, or how to make repairs, or how to play cards or participate in activities that were previously done with ease and regularity.
  • Losing one’s ability to pay bills or balance one’s checkbook.
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings or misplacing household objects.
  • Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again while insisting they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean.
  • Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.

Is there anything I can do to know if my memory is ok?

Just as you get screenings for cholesterol and blood pressure on a routine basis, we recommend to also get a regular memory screening. A memory screening takes less than 30 minutes and can be done at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute at no charge. It is not a diagnostic tool, but can determine if a person is fine or has a problem with his or her memory and should have an evaluation from a specialist. 

Courtesy of USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute