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When to worry about memory loss


Are you worried that someone you love may be experiencing the beginning stages of dementia

It is easy, when concerns surface, to ignore the fears and brush it off as your imagination.  Many families go for years with underlying concerns of memory loss or confusion without addressing them.  The problem with this approach is that there are many treatable conditions that mimic memory loss.  Addressing concerns about memory loss early may uncover one of these treatable conditions and reduce or eliminate the symptoms.  Early diagnosis, if it turns out it is some kind of dementia, can open up the opportunity for some treatments that are only available during the very early stages of dementia.  While these treatments cannot stop the symptoms or progression of the disease, they can slow the progression and often improve the quality of life for the person and everyone around them.

So, how do you know what's normal aging and what you should be concerned about?  According to Dr. Michelle Winston, a Licensed clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist practicing in Boulder, some symptoms that are likely just signs of normal aging include:

  • misplacing your car keys
  • losing your car in the parking garage
  • missing an appointment
  • forgetting the name of someone you have not seen in a while
  • taking a while to remember a restaurant or movie title

According to Dr. Winston, the following signs and symptoms should be taken seriously:

  • Signs of depression including:
  •     ~ sadness
  •      ~ loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  •      ~ sleep issues
  •      ~ lack of concern about physical appearance
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Problems other than just forgetfulness, such as:
  •      ~ difficulty managing finances
  •      ~ getting lost in familiar places
  •      ~ inability to recall events even with prompts or reminders

So where do you start if you still believe there may be an issue with memory?  The first place is to start with the persons primary care physician.  It is very likely that the person with the memory loss issues is unable to acknowledge that this is occuring.  You may need to talk to the physician in advance of the appointment and share your concerns, and the reasons for your concerns.  In a short doctors visit the doctor may not be able to recognize these concerns.  Someone in early stage dementia is often able to "fake" it quite well for short periods of time. 

There are also memory and cognitive evaluations that can be very useful in determining diagnosis.  A Neuropsychologist, neurologist, or Psychiatrist can all conduct a comprehensive assessment of the symptoms.

Read Dr. Winston's full article on Memory loss.

Read the New York Times article on preventing Memory loss.