5 Questions to Help You Decide Whether to Get Memory Loss Checked Out

Signs that can reveal whether forgetfulness is "normal" or not
biting nails
All Rights Reserved

Are you worried about memory loss? Maybe you forgot where you parked. You blanked on a colleague's name. Or you keep losing things or forgetting appointments. You may wonder, "Is this normal memory loss or something more ominous -- like a sign of mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia?"

Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide whether to worry. Know that it's always a good idea to have nagging concerns about memory loss checked out by a doctor, psychologist, or other expert in cognition and the brain. There are many reversible causes of memory loss, such as medications, stress, and head injury, for example. (And there are easily available memory aids that can help many people.) An expert can identify the source of these lapses and structure a treatment plan, no matter what the cause.

When concerned about memory loss, ask yourself:

Are the memory problems a change for you?

It's true that nearly everyone's memory tends to get a little slower with age. Scientists think this partly has to do with the amount of information we've accumulated and the busyness of our lives. When we're distracted or just not paying attention, short-term memory suffers.

If, however, problems are a significant and recent change, this can be a red flag. Compare not 30 years ago versus yesterday but last year versus yesterday.

Are the memory problems happening with increasing frequency?

The occasional gaffe can happen to anyone, at age 19 or 90. But if you're forgetting where you parked the car every time you go to the mall, that's different -- especially if you also notice other kinds of forgetfulness. Memory problems associated with dementia happen with growing regularity. Another sign: You find yourself making excuses for mistakes or looking to blame others.

Is the quality of your life affected, or are the problems interfering with your ability to function in your daily life?

People with mild cognitive impairment -- a change in thinking skills that develops into dementia only about half the time -- can function well in everyday life. When memory lapses start to make it hard to function normally, however, consider it overtime to see a specialist. Examples include having new problems completing work effectively, missing deadlines, consistently missing appointments, having trouble with grooming, having trouble dealing with money, or having a car accident or getting lost.

Are you too worried to confide in anyone?

Anyone who's had a memory lapse worries about its significance. But then we tend to joke about it, write it off to a bad day, or perhaps mention it to the doctor -- along with a litany of other symptoms. If your fears about memory problems have you so rattled that you're afraid to speak up to anyone, however, it's worth listening to this message your subconscious mind may be whispering to you -- tell someone of your concern. A doctor, for example, can ease your mind. A loved one can commiserate and share his or her own observations, which may set your worries to rest.

Are others worried about you?

Family, friends, and colleagues are often the first to notice memory changes. If others are expressing concern about you, it's worth adding their useful impressions to yours. Often people hesitate to speak up, so by the time they're saying something, they've probably noticed multiple incidents that have fed this concern. It's a natural first reaction to be angry or resentful, but your reaction won't change the content of what they're seeing.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

about 2 years, said...

I am a boy of around 16years.I could remember everything extremely well.I could narrate bits of details about something which happend to me around 10 years back. But, one day my Father hit me on the back of my head with his hands really hard 2 years ago. Since then I have been experiencing memory loss.The condition grew worse when my Father hit again on the same spot. I encountered frequent headaches . So I visited a doctor. , but he told me that it's nothing to worry about, and when I told him regarding the blow on my head , he said that It was the "most stupid corelation" he had ever heard . Also I have a little sinus problems and have a bent nose partition. The doctors say that my memory loss will itself get healed up ..but it's been 2 years but my problem continues and it gets worse day by day. Awaiting suggestion from you. Thank you.

about 2 years, said...

I am concerned that I seem to be losing things, ie; flashlight. Later found after days of searching, under the covers of the guest bed. How did it get there? When? what was I doing at the time?, etc. Do not remember having the flashlight in that area. telephone numbers, people's name that I haven't seen in a year or so. I am 79 but don't contribute this problem to age.

almost 7 years, said...

yes this is helpful because there are time when i tend to forget and i keep wondering if its more than just an age factor but then when i read the article it helped me to realize it is that im not to worry it comes with the territory because it s just might be a name or so not where i've parked or any extreme forgetting!

almost 7 years, said...

I'd of appreciated the article a bit more if it went into different things that people forget. And what kinds of medications can help forgetfullness? This was not delved into and it might have given me the strength to finally face what is in my life right now. I need to know when to draw the line on a family member before she hurts herself or some other person. These things being included would help not only me, but quite a few other people too!

almost 7 years, said...

The topic you write about, memory loss as we age, is very important and so often forgotten. Although this may seem like a commercial comment, I would simply like to share all of the readers to try the new CogniFit brain training software. It's a free, online and scientifically proven brain fitness program. You can try it at http://www.cognifit.com. It takes around 15m to do your own cognitive assessment. You will instantly know how fit your brain is and what can be done to boost it. Next you will be able to start your own personalized training program. If you like it, feel free to share it with anyone you want to. It's free!