Recognizing Memory Problems

Is it normal memory loss, or something different?

Veteran with familyMany older adults are not willing to be tested for memory problems. They worry about losing insurance or their driver's license. Many older adults fear they may be showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Not every memory problem is a sign of something serious. It's common to sometimes:

  • Forget names or appointments, but remember them later

  • Make a mistake when balancing your checkbook

  • Need help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show

  • Get confused about the day of the week but figure it out later

  • Have trouble finding the right word

  • Misplace things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control

  • Make a bad decision

  • Feel weary of work, family, and social events

  • Have a set way of doing things and be cross when that's upset

Know the warning signs

There are some concrete warning signs that you should be aware of. Memory loss that begins suddenly or that gets in the way of your daily life may mean a more serious problem is present. If you've had at least one of the following happen for no known reason in the last month, talk with your health care team.

  • Anxiety - being very worried and afraid

  • Depression - feeling miserable and worried to the point of not being able to carry out your usual actions

  • Apathy - not interested in anything, not wanting to do anything

  • Agitation/aggression - being nervous and anxious, feeling violently angry towards someone or something

  • Irritability - being annoyed and impatient

  • Disinhibition - lacking a block on spur of the moment actions that you would not otherwise do

  • Hallucination - seeing an imaginary scene or hearing an imaginary sound as clearly as if it were really there

Depression and anxiety are often seen in the loss of memory and mental ability. This may happen for reasons other than dementia. Apathy is the most often reported warning sign. Also talk with your Health Care Team if you notice a continued change in:

  • Sleep - poor sleep, or sleep problems

  • Appetite - your interest in eating food

  • Eating - An unusual pattern of eating, refusing to eat for fear of getting fat, making yourself throw-up after eating too much, or using a laxative so you won't gain weight

  • Sense of smell - things smell different or you cannot smell things you once could

  • Sense of touch - trouble telling the shape of something by touch (stereognosis); trouble making out a number or letter written on your skin by touch (graphesthesia)

  • Balance - your ability to stay upright

  • The way you walk - wider or shorter steps than usual, need to take more care when you walk

  • Driving skill - less than safe

  • Personality - the way you think and act that makes you different from anyone else

  • Judgment - trouble making decisions

  • Money management - having a hard time taking care of your accounts

The earlier the better

Finding a problem early gives you the best chance for treatment, support, and future planning. Your health care team wants to know about memory problems or warning signs that happen more than once a month. They can check out what's going on. Then they can help you find ways to better handle these problems.

What causes it?

The research on Alzheimer's is continuous and researchers believe there is no single cause of the disease. Continue to monitor your health and let your health care team know if you have experienced any of the warning signs listed previously in the article.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Read More

Noticing Memory Problems? What To Do Next (NIH)

Myths and Facts About Dementia (Veterans Health Library)

Caregiving Tips - Alzheimers (VA)

Updated March 8, 2021