We all experience forgetfulness occasionally. It’s normal for some people to suffer mild memory loss as they age. However, Alzheimer’s disease can cause serious loss of memory over time.
If you’re experiencing forgetfulness and are experiencing other symptoms, you should consult a physician. Your doctor can determine the cause of your memory loss by knowing what type of memory loss you have.
When memory loss is diagnosed early, many of its causes can be treated. Untreated illnesses can progress and become more difficult to treat if left untreated.
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Memory loss and aging
Some people find that their memory lapses as they age. If you just met someone, you may forget the name of the person, or lose things more frequently. Perhaps you keep lists and calendars to keep track of appointments and chores. You can function at work and at home despite forgetfulness caused by normal aging.
Causes of memory loss
Memory loss can be caused by a variety of factors. Here are a few examples:
- Low vitamin B-12 levels
- Sleep deprivation
- Drug or alcohol use and prescription medication use
- Surgical anesthesia
- Oncological treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation
- Traumatic brain injury or concussion
- Low oxygen levels in the brain
- Certain types of seizures
- Infection or tumor in the brain
- Heart bypass surgery or a brain tumor
- Mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dissociative disorder
- Emotional trauma
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s disease, MS or Parkinson’s disease
It is possible to reverse memory loss in some cases if some of these conditions are treated.
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The progressive loss of memory is a sign of dementia. It is also associated with difficulty in reasoning, judging and processing information. Dementia patients can also experience mood swings and behavioral issues. Dementia begins gradually and becomes more evident as it progresses. Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly responsible for dementia, although other diseases can cause the condition.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, difficulty reasoning, judgment, and being unable to communicate, learn, and perform everyday tasks. Dementia can lead to confusion and disorientation very quickly. Memory for long-term events is generally stronger and lasts longer than memory for recent events. Even though the disease can strike earlier, it generally affects people over 65.
Types of memory loss
- Alzheimer disease
- Lewy body dementia
- Fronto-temporal dementia
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (mad cow disease)
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Finding the cause of memory loss
Get in touch with your doctor if you are experiencing memory problems or if forgetfulness is interfering with your daily life.
During the evaluation of memory loss, the doctor takes a medical history, performs a physical exam – including a neurologic exam – and asks questions regarding your mental abilities.
According to the results of the blood, urine, nerve, and imaging tests of the brain, including computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be required for further evaluation.
It’s also possible that you’ll be sent for neuropsychological testing, which is a battery of tests that help identify what’s causing your memory loss.
Coping with memory loss
Coping with your own
Several simple adjustments can help you keep your memory sharp if it isn’t as sharp as it once was.
- Organize chores by using lists.
- Take medications on time with a medication schedule. Pill sorters can be helpful for some people. They will help you remember whether you took your medication or not, and you can get them at your local pharmacy.
- Keep your addresses and calendar up to date.
- Organize your home to make it easier to manage.
- Enjoy social activities and hobbies.
- Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice your memory loss is becoming more severe. Bring a trusted friend.
Coping with a loved one
You may find it difficult to watch a loved one suffer from forgetfulness. There are many ways you can help, depending on the severity of their condition. Here are some ideas:
- If their disorder interferes with their daily lives, let them know they should visit their doctor. Be there with them when they go.
- Write down when they should take their medications.
- Keep their calendar and address book up to date.
- Make their home more organized.
- Display important items clearly.
- Use sticky notes to remind them how to complete tasks.
- Keep them socially engaged.
- Bring back memories by displaying photographs and familiar objects.
- Find someone to assist in the household. Look into the possibilities of home health care, assisted living, or nursing homes if memory loss is severe.
- Be patient. Remember that someone else can’t help but lose their memory; don’t take it personally.
When to visit a doctor
If you have memory loss that interferes with your daily activities, threatens your safety, is worsening, or is accompanied by other physical symptoms, see your doctor promptly.
Forgetfulness can be caused by a variety of diseases and conditions that may worsen if left untreated.
Memory loss treatment
It is important to determine the cause of memory loss before treating it. It may be possible to reverse it with treatment. Medications may cause memory loss, but if the medication is changed, the forgetfulness will resolve.
Inadequate nutrition can lead to forgetfulness. Nutritional supplements can help counteract this effect. If you suffer from depression, you may benefit from treatment.
After someone suffers a stroke, for example, therapy may help them regain their ability to walk or tie their shoes. Others may find their memory improves with time.
Memory-related conditions may also require specific treatments. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease can be treated with drugs, and drugs that help lower blood pressure can help reduce the risk of brain damage associated with dementia caused by high blood pressure.
Patients with memory loss will undergo a comprehensive medical examination. You may wish to bring a friend or family member with you. During the consultation, your doctor will ask you specific questions about your memory impairment.
Your doctor may also test your memory during the consultation. Additionally, you should have a complete physical examination and make sure that your doctor is aware of any other physical symptoms.
A neurologist, geriatrician, or mental health professional may be referred to you based on the results of the exam. Additional testing may include:
- Thinking tests to evaluate your ability to think clearly
- Testing for thyroid disease and vitamin B-12 deficiency among other conditions
- CT scans and magnetic resonance images (MRIs)
- Measurement of brain electrical activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Spinal tap
- An X-ray of the brain is used to view blood flow through it in cerebral angiography
The first step is to determine the cause of forgetfulness. When the cause of memory loss is identified early, it is usually treatable.