Recognizing Memory Loss

October 15, 2012

Does it seem like you’re always looking for your keys when you walk out the door? Are you repeating yourself during conversations or can’t remember small details? Are you concerned that your memory is getting worse?

A certain amount of memory decline is to be expected as our brains age but when should you be worried about significant cognitive impairment that may need medical intervention?

Conditions such as anxiety, sleep deprivation, ADHD, depression, thyroid gland disease, diabetes, vitamin deficiency, infections and medications can cause significant memory loss. The effects can often be reversed after finding the cause and with the appropriate treatment. It is important to recognize and be proactive if your medical or genetic history indicates you may be at risk for memory loss due to these conditions1.

Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia are the first culprits a patient associates with memory loss, and usually the worst-case scenario. Through early diagnosis and treatment, doctors can work toward a reduced rate of memory decline and often allow patients to continue living a good quality of life for a long time.

As we begin to forget after a stressful day or as we age, there is a difference between memory loss due to medical conditions and memory loss due to normal aging. The distinctions are below.

Symptoms of Medical Conditions:

  • Forgetting important details of things you have done in the past few weeks
  • Forgetting to do things you said you would do
  • Forgetting recent events or conversations
  • Retelling a story or joke to the same person because you forgot that you had already told them
  • Difficulty completing complex tasks at work or home (i.e. balancing checkbook, planning projects)

Symptoms of Normal Aging:

  • Forgetting the name of someone you know well
  • Forgetting what you were going to say in a conversation
  • Forgetting what you were going to do when going into another room
  • Difficulty finding things you have just put down
  • Recalling a specific word you want to use

Doctors can administer memory tests, such as the MCI Screen offered by Hoag Executive Health. This test and others are designed to accurately measure an individual’s memory function. Answers are analyzed via a computerized scoring method with results provided to your physician to review with you. These diagnostic tools enable a physician to distinguish normal aging from subtle memory changes due to other medical causes. The MCI Screen, for example, is about 97 percent accurate.

If you’re worried about memory loss, the best choice is to visit with your personal physician and bring along a list of your concerns. By detecting any signs of mild cognitive impairment of the brain early, practitioners can help you to find and treat the cause.

Written by James Lindberg, M.D., Hoag Executive Health Chief of Services
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[1] https://www.mccare.com/pdf/support/article/Causes_of_MemoryLoss.pdf