Elderly person holding an old photograph

Memory Loss: When to Seek Help

Most people consider gradual memory loss a normal part of the aging process – and it is normal to occasionally forget things. It is also true that forgetfulness often increases with age. However, frequent forgetfulness or memory lapses can be a sign of something more serious. How can you tell the difference? It can be difficult, but this article can help you decide when it is time to seek help for someone under your care.

Typical Memory Problems

Particular memory problems are normal, even if they become more pronounced with age. The following difficulties usually will not indicate that there is a more serious issue unless they happen persistently or frequently.

  • Transience: Over time, you are more likely to forget certain events or facts. Memories are often considered “use-it-or-lose-it,” which is actually a beneficial way for your brain to clear itself of information that it deems unnecessary, so it has more room for useful information.
  • Absentmindedness: Everyone will forget things if they are not paying enough attention. You may forget where you placed an object if you were not focused when you set it down. A certain level of absentmindedness is considered normal, and may increase as you age.
  • Misattribution: This type of memory issue occurs if you remember something accurately in part, but forget certain things or misattribute a detail. For example, you may remember the main characters in a movie but forget the title. You may also assume a certain actor was in the film, but that is incorrect.
  • Blocking: When you do not know the answer to a question, but it seems like it is on the tip of your tongue yet cannot think of it, blocking has occurred. In most situations, the blocking subsides over time – usually within about a minute.
  • Suggestibility: Memories can sometimes be falsely created through suggestion. Meaning, when hearing about an event or significant occurrence, our brains can actually fool us into believing that we actually experienced it personally through suggested details of the event.
  • Bias: Everyone has natural, personal biases. These biases, such as past experiences, knowledge, personal beliefs, and even our mood at the time of recalling a memory, can alter the accuracy of that particular memory.

Memory Loss and Dementia

The term “dementia” is used to describe a variety of mental deficiencies, including impairments related to judgment, reasoning, memory, language, and other cognitive skills. Dementia often occurs over time, and it can affect a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships, and engage in social interactions. While memory loss is one of the most recognizable signs of dementia, there are other early signs as well. For example, if someone under your care goes through sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason, in addition to memory problems, you may need to seek medical help related to dementia. Often, only severe signs of memory loss or impairment will indicate that dementia is a concern. Mixing up words, forgetting common words, misplacing items (such as putting a fork in the refrigerator), and getting lost are all signs of more serious memory problems.

A lowered ability to follow directions or complete familiar tasks may also be worrisome. It is possible for individuals to develop mind cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a notable change in thinking skills, without fully developing dementia. However, those who develop MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another disorder eventually. If someone under your care is exhibiting these more serious signs of memory loss or impairment, it is time to seek help.