Many people experience, very frequently or occasionally, different signs of memory loss, or forgetfulness (for example, forgetting names, or where you left your car key, etc.).
To a certain degree, casual memory loss is normal, especially among elderly people, yet sometimes it can be a first sign of a more severe memory loss disease.
When a person experiences loss of memory frequently, it can cause panic and frustration, as one might be concerned that they might be developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Memory loss as a part of aging
To a certain degree, most people experience a degradation in the ability to remember things as they age. It is not always so easy to assess whether occasional events of memory loss are a normal part of the aging process, or a sign that the person might be in the early stages of dementia.
Normal memory loss that is caused by aging does not stop a person from functioning in society and work. One might need to write down more and make lists of things to do in order to remember, or forget small things such as where his glasses are, but the person is still capable of living a full productive life and is independent.
Memory loss diseases
The word “dementia” is usually used to refer to a clinically diagnosed disease that causes, among other things, severe memory loss. In cases of dementia, the loss of memory is usually one of the first symptoms, but not the only one. People who suffer from dementia also demonstrate difficulties in language comprehension and production, reasoning, and other cognitive abilities.
Dementia is a progressive disease, which means that in most cases, the loss of memory as well as the other symptoms will get worse over time. In many cases, in the last stage of the disease the person is completely unable to take care of himself and needs 24/7 assistance.
Early signs of memory loss diseases
There are many signs that indicate that a person might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, or other memory related disease. If a person experiences a few of the following symptoms, it would be a good reason to get checked by a doctor:
- Continually asking the same questions
- Difficulties finding the right words while speaking
- Mixing up words that are not really similar (for example, using the word “egg” instead of “bread”)
- Orientation difficulties: losing one’s way in familiar roads and places.
- Putting items in completely inappropriate places (for example, putting the TV remote in the fridge)
- Unexplained, sudden changes in mood – being restless, anxious or upset for no apparent reason.
The most common memory loss diseases
There are different neurological reasons for different types of memory loss diseases. The most common one is Alzheimer’s Disease. Other common diseases are “Frontotemporal dementia”, “Vascular dementia”, and “Lewy body dementia”.
Each of the different dementia types has slightly different symptoms, and order of progression, as they are caused by different kinds of neurological problems in the brain. It is also possible to have more than one kind of dementia (referred to as “mixed dementia”).
Other factors that can contribute to loss of memory
Aside from clinical diseases, there are other factors that can trigger memory loss, or accelerate and intensify normal memory degradation that is caused by aging.
It is important to be aware of these factors, as they are to some degree reversible and treatable.
Some medical problems can trigger dementia-like symptoms, and might even lead to misdiagnosis. If you are going to get checked by a doctor, make sure to share the whole picture with your doctor, so he or she can better assess your situation.
Common, reversible causes of memory loss are:
- Medications – certain medications, mostly antidepressants and other psychiatric medications are known to cause brain fog and forgetfulness.
- Stress – overexposure to stressful situations and environments can deplete one’s energy and put the brain and body in a “fight or flight” mode. When this happens for a long duration, on a daily basis, it can affect and damage the more “advanced” parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive skills and memory.
- Alcohol and drugs – long term abuse of alcohol and drugs can cause severe memory problems.
- Lack of nutrients, especially Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12, as well as other nutrients are an important assess for healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. A severe Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause symptoms of memory loss.
- Hypothyroidism – hypothyroidism is a medical term to describe an underactive thyroid gland. This problem can cause, among other things, memory loss and decline in cognitive function.
Memory loss diagnosis
If you or one of your loved ones is suffering from loss of memory and other symptoms from the list described above, it is crucial to get a professional diagnosis as soon as possible.
Whether one suffers from a clinical memory loss disease or not, the sooner one gets a diagnosis the sooner they can start to make changes, or in cases of Alzheimer and other memory loss diseases, receive treatment.
An early diagnosis of a clinical memory loss disease will give you more time to prepare for the future, educate yourself and your family about the disease and the expected stages, get in contact with care facilities or home care professionals, etc.
An early diagnosis of a reversible, non-clinical cause for memory loss will eliminate the fear of having dementia, and also allow faster, more effective treatment.
When you go to a doctor to seek help and diagnosis, be sure to give him the whole picture, and share as much as possible, as the topic of memory loss is complex and might be caused by many different reasons (or a combination of a few things).
Make sure to explain which tasks you find specifically challenging, such as: when the degradation in memory occurred, and whether you’ve gone through emotional difficulties lately or experienced a lot of stress.