When Memory Loss Becomes a Concern

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Everybody misplaces items, forgets the name of someone they know well, or doesn't show up for an appointment because it slips their mind. How often have you found something you lost in an unexpected place, like your keys in the freezer?

While memory loss is a common occurrence, especially in aging, there is a difference in memory loss and a significant decline in cognition such as those associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.  A physician can diagnose these conditions so individuals can move forward and receive the care they need to stay safe.

So, what's normal? Well, memory loss that is manageable and doesn't lead to a disruption in your daily life is considered normal. Forgetting something one day, but recalling it the next is often associated with general memory loss from aging and is also normal. Forgetting that the stove is on or leaving the door open during cold weather, that is not normal. Unfortunately, families may not know someone is exhibiting signs of dementia because the senior often recognizes and  is hiding their issue and or downplaying an incident.

Many times when an incident occurs, families recognize their loved one's memory is declining and they may be experiencing a form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is caused by physical changes in the brain. Alzheimer's disease is often the most recognizable form of dementia, presenting in 60-80 percent of individuals. Up to 50 percent of seniors age 85 and older are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

However, there are multiple different forms of dementia that can result from other physical conditions include vascular dementia (stroke-related), frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson's disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus, Huntington's disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Many individuals have heard of DLB recently as this is something that Robin Williams was diagnosed with.

Additionally, mixed dementia is more common that previously thought. This arises when more than one cause of dementia occur simultaneously in the brain.

Often families do not realize that the various forms of dementia can present different symptoms and thus they  may not recognize that their loved one is displaying symptoms from one of these conditions.

Dementia is more than just memory loss. Symptoms can range from impaired communication, poor judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking for Alzheimer's disease to sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and slowness, gait imbalance or other sporadic movement features for DLB.

Often, memory loss is the most-recognizable signs of dementia. According to Mayo Clinic, other early signs may include:
• Asking the same questions repeatedly
• Forgetting common words when speaking
• Mixing words up — saying "bed" instead of "table," for example
• Taking longer to complete familiar tasks, such as following a recipe
• Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer
• Getting lost while walking or driving around a familiar neighborhood
• Undergoing sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason
• Becoming less able to follow directions

The progression of dementia can range from early stage to late-stage disease at different rates.  It's always best to contact a physician when you feel something isn't right with someone you love. Identifying a condition early is best so that you can help keep your loved one safe and to begin treatment for any reversible cause of memory impairment and understanding of the condition they are experiencing so that quality of life and care can be preserved.

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