When You Should Be Concerned About Memory Loss

So you’ve forgotten why you went into the dining room or you’ve misplaced your car keys – again. How do you know if your absentmindedness is normal or a sign of something more serious?

While some of us may become more forgetful as we get older, simple absentmindedness doesn't always signal a problem, says neuropsychiatrist Brian Appleby, MD.

“It’s normal when people age for their thought process to slow down,” he says. “Sometimes that may look like a memory problem.”

Memory Loss vs. Forgetfulness

Although it may not be inevitable, memory loss is common in older adults. Nearly one-third of elderly people over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of memory loss in the United States. Five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, one-third of whom are men.

“The chances that a person will experience memory loss doubles nearly every year after age 65,” Dr. Appleby says.

People experiencing memory loss tend to repeat themselves or may ask others to repeat themselves over and over. The kinds of things people with memory loss tend to forget are details of conversations or recent events.

There are several conditions that can lead to memory loss, including thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies and depression. “Those things can actually be treated and a lot of times the memory problem will go completely away,” he says.

How to Keep Your Memory Sharp

You can do a few things to keep your memory in shape, Dr. Appleby says:

  • Eat a heart healthy diet and exercise
  • Make sure you get enough sleep
  • Stay active socially
  • Keep your mind active, which may include activities ranging from reading to doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku

“When people start having memory loss, it’s very rarely a sudden thing,” Dr. Appleby says. “Usually it sneaks up on you and increases little by little. A lot of times it’s hard for the person or their family members to notice there’s even a difference because it’s so subtle.”

Sometimes the affected person will notice their own memory loss, but often it’s the people around them who recognize it first.

“If you notice a progression of your memory loss over time, you should get evaluated,” he says.

Brian Appleby, MD is a neuropsychiatrist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Appleby or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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