Memory problems: 10 warning signs
Especially as we age, most have niggling worries about bouts of forgetfulness being the first signs of dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. But a new study by the National Institutes of Health, published online in the October 29, 2007, issue of “Neuroepidemiology,” found that in a nationally representative sample of older adults, only 5 percent of those in their 70s had dementia. Further, although the risk rises with aging, only 24 percent in their 80s and only 37 percent in their 90s have dementia. This is encouraging, suggesting that the majority of us can expect our memories to serve us well into our later years.
Still, while occasional forgetfulness (trouble remembering proper nouns like the names of people, books, movies or places or forgetting where you put your glasses or car keys which we eventually locate) is part of normal aging, there are 10 signs we should be aware of that indicate that memory lapses may be serious.
1. Increased difficulty performing familiar tasks such as driving or cooking that impede the ability to perform daily responsibilities at work or at home.
2. Disorientation to or trouble recognizing familiar places or faces; getting lost; frequent confusion as to date and time.
3. Difficulty remembering the proper place for common objects.
4. Difficulty finding the right words to express thoughts such that you have trouble conversing with others or following a conversation.
5. Difficulty with spatial relationships and complex intellectual tasks such as reading a map, grasping a new idea or learning new skills and displaying frequent problems with insight and judgment.
6. Increased difficulty concentrating on specific tasks or activities.
7. Difficulty following instructions, especially when they involve a series of tasks, completing tasks and/or asking the same questions over and over.
8. Increasing passivity, apathy, loss of energy, loss of motivation, increased sleep and/or indifference to your surroundings.
9. Changes in behavior (increased irritability or aggressive conduct) or mood (suspicion, increased anxiety, depression, or mood swings).
10. Neglect of personal hygiene (showering or bathing, dental care) and safety (repeated leaving the stove burner on).
Very often, these problems are noticed by friends and family first, so if you’re worried about your own or another’s memory, consider getting a medical assessment.
A physician can rule out other possible causes such as thyroid abnormalities, depression, vitamin deficiency or sleep deprivation or consult a memory specialist such as a geriatric psychiatrist (MD), geriatric psychologist (PhD), geriatrician (MD), or neurologist (MD). Prompt treatment may slow dementia of the Alzheimer’s type and/or ease its symptoms.