You can’t remember someone’s name. You misplaced your keys. You forgot to pay a bill. You took a wrong turn on a familiar road. Should you be worried that you’ve got Alzheimer’s disease or some other cause of dementia?
As we age, it’s normal to experience some degree of memory loss. Normal forgetfulness does not seriously interfere with your work or everyday activities. When it’s caused by dementia it does.
Darlene Field, an Alzheimer’s care consultant in southern Maine, says that normal forgetfulness is occasionally not remembering names or appointments, “tip of your tongue” information and where you put your keys or glasses.
Common things that can affect memory that aren’t related to age or dementia include:
• Vision or hearing deficits
• Illness, fatigue or stress
• Substance abuse
When someone has dementia, memory loss is usually not the only sign that something is wrong. These are dementia warning signs:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Challenges in planning or solving problems
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
• Confusion with time or place
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
New problems with words in speaking or writing
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
• Decreased or poor judgment
Withdrawal from work or social activities
• Changes in mood and personality
One other example Field shares that may be helpful is that with normal forgetfulness, you usually remember that you forgot something – it will come to you later. With dementia, you don’t remember that you have forgotten.
If you have questions or are worried about any of the warning signs, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Fortunately, many causes of dementia are reversible. Those include depression, infections, dehydration or malnutrition, alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, medication complications and metabolic imbalance.
The sooner the cause of dementia symptoms is known, the sooner treatment can begin. Even people with Alzheimer’s disease, which tops the list of irreversible causes of dementia, may benefit from medications in the early stages.
Irreversible causes of dementia include:
• Alzheimer’s disease (50 percent)
Vascular dementia, usually caused by strokes (20 percent)
Both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (20 percent)
Rare disorders, such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Huntington’s disease.
Former WCSH-TV health reporter Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood. Catching Health received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council.