Everyone has lapses in memory from time to time, but as people enter their golden years, these incidences of forgetfulness can be frightening. Suddenly, slight memory blips are feared to be the first signs of dementia, maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.
The truth is it’s a long way from an occasional memory lapse to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Misplacing the car keys and forgetting the name of someone who was recently introduced is perfectly normal and happens to everyone occasionally.
The time to be concerned is when memory loss interferes with normal routine activities. If you get lost going to the grocery store, get confused balancing the checkbook or become baffled by how to make a favorite recipe, a call to your doctor is in order.
This is an important step and should not be ignored. Too often seniors don’t reveal their memory problems or a spouse covers for the lapses, but this does more harm than good and could even be dangerous.
Fear is a powerful thing, but stay focused on the fact that memory loss is not necessarily Alzheimer’s. Dementia can be caused by depression, drug interaction, a vitamin B deficiency or dehydration or thyroid problems, among others. These conditions are treatable but early detection is the key.
While memory loss, regardless of the reason, is disruptive, there are ways to lessen the impact. Using “memory tools” such as logging all appointments in a calendar, making to-do lists and keeping them handy, writing notes to yourself and always putting your wallet or purse, keys and glasses in the exact same place every day.
Anyone who is concerned about changes in memory or normal function should consult a health care professional. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s which is available at alz.org
The Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter encourages people to call their free 24/7 help line at 800-272-3900 with questions about risk factors, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.