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Memory Loss: Does it Mean Alzheimer's?

Some memory loss is a normal part of aging, but certain memory problems may be related to other issues such as depression, dehydration or medical conditions such as Alzheimer's. The good news is: many types of memory loss are treatable. The following article will guide you in determining if your parent's memory loss is normal or more serious, and what you can do to help.

Normal or not?

As a rule of thumb, memory loss can be identified as serious when it affects your parent's daily living activities. Specifically, here's a formula to follow: if the cognitive problems come on suddenly they could be the result of medication interactions; if the problems begin to happen over approximately one month to six weeks, they may be due to family or environmental factors. If the onset is over two months or more, something cognitively has changed, according to Nancy Bortinger, MSW, geriatric care manager.

"If the onset is over two months or more, something cognitively has changed." — Nancy Bortinger, MSW, geriatric care manager.

Always consult your parent's doctor if you suspect his or her memory loss is more serious than normal.

Some symptoms of normal memory loss are:

  • Simple forgetfulness (such as losing the car keys)
  • Minor language problems (may take longer to think of the right words to use)
  • Problems multitasking
  • Slower reaction time
  • Difficulty with recent memory (remembering the name of someone you just met)

Some symptoms of more serious memory loss are:

  • Increasing forgetfulness
  • Forgetting how to do things you've done many times before
  • Continuously repeating questions, comments or stories
  • Difficulty making decisions/poor judgment
  • Difficulty learning anything new
  • Having trouble keeping track of what's happening today
  • Unusual behavior (becomes agitated more easily, seems more depressed than usual, starts being paranoid)

How do I know if it might be Alzheimer's?

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's disease starts by changing the recent memory. At first, a person with Alzheimer's disease will remember even small details of his or her distant past but not be able to remember recent events or conversations. Over time, the disease affects all parts of the memory.

Treatable memory loss

A number of health, medical and psychological issues can cause serious, but treatable memory loss:

  • Medication combinations
  • Medication toxicity
  • Blood sugar variability
  • Thyroid problems
  • Infection
  • Lung Disease
  • Cancer
  • Dehydration
  • Poor nutrition
  • Depression

Treatments for these issues can run the gamut from medications including antidepressants to healthier eating, improvement in social activities and other tips listed below.

Helping your parent combat memory loss

Even if your parent is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, or is struggling with recovering memory loss because of other issues, the following can help improve the situation:

  • Learn a new skill
  • Volunteer in the local community, school or place of worship
  • Arrange to spend more time socializing with family and friends
  • Use memory tools such as big calendars, to-do lists, and notes to oneself
  • Find one place for the wallet or purse, keys and glasses
  • Get lots of rest
  • Exercise and eat well
  • Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol
  • Get professional help if your parent is feeling depressed for weeks at a time