When to be concerned about memory loss


When to be concerned about memory loss

You walk into a room and can’t remember what you were looking for. Or you run into an acquaintance you’ve met several times but can’t remember the person’s name.
Forgetfulness happens to everybody, and it’s typically not a cause for alarm. But when does forgetfulness or memory loss become something to discuss with a doctor?
It’s an important question to ask as we age. Surveys show that dementia and memory loss are a top health concern among people ages 50 to 64. At the same time, many people don’t speak to a physician about it – often because they’re reluctant to address it or consider it a normal part of aging.

Don't wait

However, that approach can lead to missed opportunities, says Dr. Elizabeth Dixon, family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Murrells Inlet.

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She says it’s important to discuss forgetfulness or memory loss concerns you may have with a physician.
“We’re here to help,” she says. “If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, it’s always best to speak to a care provider rather than ignore or dismiss symptoms. We can help you determine if there’s cause for concern. And, if dementia or another condition is found early on, we may be able to help limit its progression or otherwise plan for the future.”

Signs and symptoms

The signs of dementia can vary based on the person and type, but may include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as forgetting events, repeating yourself or relying on more aids to help you remember (like sticky notes or reminders)
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, such as having trouble keeping track of bills or cooking recipes you have used for years
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home and at work
  • Confusion with time or place, such as regularly losing track of dates
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations, such as having more difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things at home or spilling or dropping things more often
  • New problems finding words when speaking or writing, which can make it difficult to follow or join a conversation or leave a person struggling to communicate their thoughts (for example, saying “that thing on your wrist that tells time” instead of “watch”)
  • Misplacing things in unusual locations and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment, which can translate into increased vulnerability to scams or failing to manage money well
  • Withdrawal or difficulties at work or with social activities, such as not wanting to attend previously routine activities or not being able to follow sports games or keep up with what’s happening at events
  • Changes in mood and personality, such as getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious


Next steps

Depending on your symptoms, your primary care provider may order testing or refer you to a specialist to help determine whether your memory loss is a sign of dementia or another medical condition.
“Generally, health care providers perform tests on attention, memory, problem-solving and other cognitive abilities to see if there is cause for concern,” Dr. Dixon says.

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Care providers may also order blood and imaging tests to help diagnose the cause of your memory loss. Many medical conditions can cause or contribute to memory loss, including head trauma, sleep disorders, emotional disorders, alcohol use and certain brain diseases.

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