When Is Forgetfulness a Cause for Concern?

Here’s how to identify what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to memory loss.

Everyone experiences occasional memory lapses, especially as they age. But how do you know when memory lapses are due to normal aging and when they can signify dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Misplacing the car keys or not remembering what you need at the supermarket can be frustrating but isn’t necessarily cause for concern. When forgetfulness starts to impact a person’s everyday life, however, it may be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects more than 5 million people in the United States, or about 10% of people over the age of 65. It also affects about 200,000 people under age 65.

Signs of Alzheimer’s may be obvious to family members or friends but not to the person experiencing the symptoms. The most common early sign, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Other signs include forgetting names and important dates, misplacing things and having to ask for the same information repeatedly. You may also start to see confusion with times and places, a lack of judgment or difficulty following directions. Social withdrawal and personality changes are additional signs that shouldn’t be ignored. 

If you start to notice changes in mental ability or behavior in a loved one, it’s a good idea to discuss them with a doctor as soon as possible. Forgetfulness in and of itself does not mean a person has Alzheimer’s but a doctor can determine if dementia is causing the memory loss or if there is another cause. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, early detection can provide access to treatments that may delay progression of the disease, improve quality of life and allow your loved one to maintain independence longer.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 18, 2018

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Dr. Richard G. Stefanacci, DO

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