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Memory Loss... Is it normal, or the beginnings of Alzheimer's?

Sasha Dwyer - Friday, August 08, 2014

As people age, it's normal to have occasional memory problems, such as forgetting the name of a person you've recently met. However, Alzheimer's is more than occasional memory loss. It's a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. When this happens, an individual may forget the name of a longtime friend, or what roads to take to return to a home they've lived in for decades.

It can be difficult to tell normal memory problems from memory problems that should be a cause for concern. The Alzheimer's Association has developed information to help you tell the difference. If you or a loved one has memory problems or other problems with thinking and learning that concern you, contact a physician. Sometimes the problems are caused by medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions and can be reversed with treatment. The memory and thinking problems may also be caused by another type of dementia.


We are all forgetful from time to time. Given the growing attention to Alzheimer's in the news these days, many of us, especially senior citizens, have a nagging worry about it. Could it be happening to us? Could we be getting Alzheimer's?

Here are the most often cited list of signs of Alzheimer's Disease as posted from the Alzheimer's Association:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality

In reading this list, you should consider a couple of things. 

First is that the severity and frequency of a given symptom is important. For example, if a person is an accountant and becomes completely unable to balance the checkbook this may be reason for concern. But occasionally making an error while working on the checkbook is probably not something you should worry about. The second thing is that, as mentioned above, the symptoms of Alzheimer's typically disrupt daily life while signs of normal aging usually do not.


With normal aging, we may forget where we parked at the mall, but with Alzheimer's we may forget how we got to the mall. Forgetting the names of people you rarely see can be normal, while forgetting the names of people close to you can be an early sign of Alzheimer's.
Misplacing things from time to time may be normal. But putting things in very unusual places and accusing others of stealing them could be of concern. I give the following example: If you put your glasses in a desk drawer when you normally put them on the top of the desk, that's one thing. But putting them in the freezer or on a high shelf in the garage or in a suitcase kept in the basement is another altogether.

Here are two circumstances that you might experience that may lead you to contact your doctor. First, if you are experiencing the type of memory issues indicated above as possible signs of Alzheimer's, it would be a good idea to write examples down and take it to a neurologist or family physician. Second, even if you aren't having such memory problems, but you're still overly worried about your memory, it might be worth a trip to the doctor. In the very least, it will ease your mind of worries that may turn out to be nothing!



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