There are normal, age-related changes in the brain. After age 40 the brain’s processing speed begins to slow. Just like a computer processor, the brain slows down due to age and the amount of information it stores over the years.
Problems arise when the person is not aware they are starting to forget important things such as family events, appointments and taking medications. The Alzheimer’s Association provides 10 insights into what are normal, age-related changes and what could be early symptoms and signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease:
- Normal: Forgetting appointments or names, but eventually remembering them
Not normal: Memory loss that affects daily life, especially of learned information, such as:
- Forgetting important names and dates
- Repeatedly asking for the same information
- Relying on memory aids or family members to help with things they were previously able to do
- Normal: Making occasional errors when completing tasks, such as balancing a checkbook
Not normal: A noticeable change in the ability to work with numbers or follow a plan or procedure. For example:
- Tasks may take much longer than before
- Difficulty with tasks like following a recipe or managing finances
- Normal: Occasionally needing help completing routine tasks around the house or at work, such as recording a TV show
Not normal: An inability to complete familiar tasks, such as:
- Driving to a familiar location
- Managing a budget at work
- Recalling rules to a favorite game
- Normal: Confusion about what day of the week it is, but ultimately figuring it out
Not normal: Losing track of dates, seasons or time. This includes, forgetting where they are or how they got there.
- Normal: Vision changes due to cataracts
Not normal: Visual difficulties such as:
- Judging distance
- Determining color or contrast, which can affect the ability to drive safely
- Normal: Sometimes struggling to recall the right word
Not normal: New or worsening problems with speaking or writing, including:
- Inability to recall words or follow a conversation
- Repetition of the same story
- Calling things by the wrong name
- Normal: Misplacing things but being able to retrace steps to locate them
Not normal: Losing things without remembering where they put them, including:
- Leaving things in strange places
- Accusing others of stealing their possessions (increasingly common as dementia progresses)
- Normal: Making occasional poor decisions
Not normal: Decreased judgment, such as:
- Bad decisions when dealing with money
- Decrease in attention to things like hygiene and grooming
- Normal: Sometimes feeling drained by family, social and work obligations
Not normal: Withdrawal from people and activities the person once enjoyed, including hobbies, work projects, sports, etc., which may occur because they find it hard to keep up or are starting to notice changes in themselves.
- Normal: Becoming irritated when a routine is disrupted
Not normal: Changes in mood and personality, especially feelings of confusion, suspicion, fear, anxiety or depression
If you are concerned about your loved one’s recent memory loss, accompany them to the doctor, since they are probably unaware of it.
Conversations about memory loss can be difficult, especially with aging parents. Here are some recommendations for how to proceed from Diana Kerwin, M.D., chief of geriatrics and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas.
- Try to go to a doctor appointment with them to bring up the memory changes and ask the doctor to check for some common, easily correctable issues that can cause memory loss, such as thyroid function and vitamin levels like B12, folic acid and vitamin D.
- Be sure that any issues for them involving blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes are well controlled.
- Evaluate their medications to ensure there aren’t over-the-counter sleeping medications that may cause memory difficulty.
- Also, review their medications to be sure they are being taken as prescribed. Sometimes the person with memory loss does not realize they are not taking their medications, so check with the pharmacy to see if the refills confirm the medication is being taken regularly.
- Ask the doctor to do a memory screening in the office, or send your parent to a specialist for a memory evaluation.
- If you feel your parent’s memory loss may jeopardize their own safety or the safety of others, it is important to address this as soon as possible. Part of treating memory loss involves making adjustments to prevent other injuries or illnesses.
Find a Memory Disorders physician on the medical staff near you today.