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Everyone occasionally experiences forgetfulness. Mild memory loss tends to increase with age and is generally no cause for concern. But progressive memory loss due to illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease can be serious.
Consult your doctor if memory loss starts to affect your daily life, or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms. Noting what type of memory loss you have will help 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 you have memory lapses from time to time. You may forget the name of someone you just met, or you may misplace things more often. Perhaps you rely more on lists and calendars to remember chores and appointments. Memory loss from normal aging doesn’t affect 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.
Watching someone you love struggle with memory loss can be difficult. Depending on the severity of their condition, there are many ways you can help. For example:
Many factors can cause memory loss. These factors include:
Some of these conditions are treatable and, in some cases, memory loss can be reversed.
Progressive memory loss is 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 and last longer than memories of recent events. Although it can strike earlier, this progressive disease generally affects 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. Your doctor will ask questions about the specifics of your problems with memory. They 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 tests 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 on: Feb 25, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PMHNP-BC
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