Memory hiccups? When to worry

Is your loved one having trouble thinking of the right words? Or remembering a friend’s name? Fading memory, fear that they won’t be able to take care of themselves, or that they’ll become someone different? These concerns stoke people’s fears about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. What can you do about it? Staying informed about Alzheimer’s and dementia-related symptoms is a good place to start.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: Defining Terms

  • Dementia is a broad term used to describe a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough that it interferes with daily life.
  • Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.1 It is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia.2 It can happen when there is an interruption of blood flow to the brain, depriving brain cells of vital oxygen and nutrients.3 This most commonly happens after a stroke.

Natural memory loss or Alzheimer’s?

A slip of the memory happens now and then. But this doesn’t mean a person has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. For example, a typical age-related change might be forgetting a name or appointment, but remembering it later. A sign of Alzheimer’s might be forgetting information you just learned, forgetting important dates or events, or asking for the same information over and over.

As a caregiver, if you see signs suggesting the onset of dementia, talk to your loved one about scheduling an examination with their doctor. When dementia is identified early, you may have time to respond, find support, learn about the condition, and plan to make the time with your loved one the best it can be.

10 signs memory loss may be serious

How do you know when forgetting where you put your keys is normal aging, or an early sign of dementia? Some memory problems may be signs that there’s something more serious happening than normal aging.4

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and judging distances
  6. New problems with speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things, and inability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood or personality

Test memory and thinking

If you’re concerned about your loved one’s memory or brain health, talk to a doctor. They may use a mental status test to check memory, ability to solve simple problems, and other thinking skills. It won’t diagnose dementia, just whether follow-up is needed.

Go to Alzheimer’s Association (link opens in new window) to find out more about brain tests.