Memory Loss, When to Seek Help

Memory Loss, When to Seek Help

Most adults experience some form of memory loss as they age. You might misplace your keys or forget an appointment. These kinds of memory lapses don’t need to signal alarm. Alzheimer’s disease is different.  A form of dementia (memory loss) it is more severe and interferes with everyday activities.

How do you know if memory loss is serious? We offer insights.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Dementia refers to a decline in thinking skills and memory. It can interfere with normal daily living. Some with dementia may have trouble using language or recognizing people.

There are different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is just one form, yet it makes up 60-80% of dementia cases. It’s caused by plaque in the brain.

Vascular dementia is another type. It’s caused by brain damage from small strokes. Other forms can be caused by vitamin deficiencies and other health problems.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s

Most people develop Alzheimer’s in their later years – at age 65 or older. Some people can develop it in their 30s, 40s or 50s, though. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. About 10% of Alzheimer’s cases are early-onset.

Early-onset Triggers

It isn’t always clear what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s, but some cases are caused by genetic factors. For the remaining majority of cases, the cause is often a mix of genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Head injuries can also contribute to Alzheimer’s cases. People who suffer a head injury early in life are more likely to develop the disease.

Finally, there is a link between people with diabetes and memory loss. People with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely than those without the disease to develop trouble with memory and thinking, including Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

One of the first signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can develop into Alzheimer’s, is trouble identifying smells. We naturally experience a decline in our sense of smell when we age. Allergies or a cold can temporarily affect it too. But if your sense of smell has been gone for a while, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Other symptoms to discuss with your doctor include:

  • Inability to complete familiar tasks
  • Difficulty with problem solving and with following instructions
  • Changes in personality or mood

If these symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can mean more treatment options.

Although there is no way to prevent Alzheimer’s, there are medicines that can help preserve speaking, thinking and memory for a short time to help you function better.

Sources: Alzheimer’s and Dementia, leaving site icon Alzheimer’s Association, 2022; Alzheimer’s Disease, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2022

Originally published 11/19/2015; Revised 2023