Memory Changes? Learn When to Seek Help

Memory Changes? Learn When to Seek Help

You forget a new friend’s name. Forget a haircut date. Forget where you left your car keys. It happens. And it probably isn’t a sign of a serious health issue. But some types of memory loss may be a wake-up call to find out what’s going on with your health.

Most adults have some form of memory loss as they age. Forgetfulness and brain fog are changes to discuss with your doctor. But don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s a serious illness like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s Behind Your Memory Problem?

Many things can cause memory problems that mimic dementia, but aren’t dementia and can be treated, says AARPleaving site icon They include:

  • Medication side effects or interactions
  • Untreated infections, such as UTIs
  • Sleep problems
  • Dehydration
  • Heart, lung, liver or kidney issues
  • Hormone changes and thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Alcoholism
  • Some cancers
  • Pain
  • Stress/anxiety/depression
Alzheimer’s and Dementia

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

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

Vascular dementia, caused by brain damage from small strokes, is another type. Other forms of dementia 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. But some people can get it in their 30s, 40s or 50s. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. About 10 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are early-onset. 

It isn’t always clear what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s, but some cases are caused by genetic factors. In the remaining majority of cases, the cause is often a mix of genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, head injuries can contribute to Alzheimer’s. And there is a link between people with diabetes and memory loss. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis
Mild cognitive impairment can develop into Alzheimer’s. Some signs of MCI include:

  • Unexplained loss of sense of smell
  • Inability to complete familiar tasks
  • Difficulty with problem solving and with following instructions
  • Changes in personality or mood

If you or those close to you have noticed these changes in you, talk to your doctor. Sometimes the people who know you best will see changes in your behavior first, says the Mayo Clinicleaving site icon

Talk to Your Doctor

Whatever the cause of your memory issues, talk to your doctor. It may be something easily treatable. And if it is something more serious, it’s important to catch it early. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can mean more treatment options are available.

Keep Your Brain Healthy at Any Age

There are ways to keep your brain healthy and prevent or delay cognitive decline. And it’s never too soon to start. Learn the steps you can take to keep your brain healthy.

Sources: Alzheimer’s and Dementialeaving site icon Alzheimer’s Association; Alzheimer’s Disease, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2024; When to seek help for memory loss, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2022; 6 Medical Problems That Can Mimic Dementia — But Aren’t, leaving site iconAARP, 2023

Originally published 11/19/2015; Revised 2023, 2024