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Everyone occasionally experiences forgetfulness. Mild memory loss tends to increase with age and is generally no cause for concern. However, there is a difference between mild memory loss due to normal aging and progressive or extreme memory loss due to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Memory loss may start suddenly or come on slowly. It may affect your ability to remember recent events, events in the past, or both. You may forget a single event or all events. You may have trouble learning new material or making new memories. Memory loss may be permanent or temporary.
Consult a doctor if memory loss is beginning to affect your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms. Noting what type of memory loss you have will help you and your doctor determine its cause.
Many causes of memory loss are treatable if diagnosed early. If not diagnosed and treated, some illnesses will progress and make treatment more difficult.
As you age, you may find that your memory fails you from time to time. You may forget the name of someone you just met, or you may misplace things more often than you used to. Perhaps you rely more on lists and calendars to remember chores and appointments. The type of memory loss associated with normal aging does not hamper your ability to function at work or at home.
If your memory is not as sharp as it once was, a few simple adjustments can help you with your daily activities.
It can be disturbing to watch someone you love struggle with memory loss. Depending on the severity of their condition, there are things you can do to help. For example:
Many factors can cause memory loss. Among them are
Some of these conditions are treatable and, in some cases, memory loss can be reversed.
Progressive memory loss a symptom of dementia. Other symptoms include difficulty with reasoning, judgment, language, and thinking skills. People with dementia can also exhibit behavioral problems and mood swings. Dementia usually starts gradually and gets more noticeable as it progresses. Dementia can be caused by a variety of diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease impairs memory and affects reasoning, judgment, and the ability to learn, communicate, and perform everyday functions. People with Alzheimer’s disease can quickly become confused and disoriented. Long-term memories are usually stronger than memories of recent events. Although it can strike earlier, this progressive disease generally strikes people over age 65.
Consult your doctor if memory loss is interfering with your daily activities, threatening your safety, progressing, or accompanied by other physical symptoms.
Memory loss can be caused by a variety of diseases and conditions that may worsen if left untreated.
A medical exam for memory loss will include a complete medical history. Bring a family member or trusted friend along to help you. The doctor will ask questions about the specifics of your problems with memory. He or she may also ask a few questions to test your memory. Your doctor should also give you a complete physical exam and ask about other physical symptoms.
Depending on the findings of the exam, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist, geriatrician, or mental health professional. Additional diagnostic testing may include
Getting a diagnosis is an important first step. Many medical conditions that cause memory loss are treatable when identified early.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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