BY STACEY RHODES, MS
Adult Day Program Director / Dementia Care Specialist
Many people worry about becoming forgetful. They think forgetfulness is a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease. Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As we get older, changes occur in all parts of the body including the brain. Some people take longer to learn new things, they don’t remember information as well as they did, or they misplace items. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious problems, like Alzheimer’s Disease. What determines if memory changes are early warning signs of future decline? What is normal aging vs. a sign of cognitive decline? The following are warning signs followed by normal memory slips.
- Difficulty planning or solving problems. Can you follow a plan or recipe? Do you have trouble working with numbers or keeping track of your checkbook?
Occasionally making errors with numbers or planning are normal.
- Losing track of time and dates. Do you often lose track of dates, appointments or seasons?
Getting confused about these things is normal if you can figure it out on your own later.
- Misplacing items. Do you struggle to retrace steps to look for a lost item? Are you putting items in unusual places? Do you accuse others of stealing?
Normal aging is misplacing items from time to time and being able to retrace your steps to locate things.
- Changes in Mood/Personality. Do you become upset much more easily when you are out of your comfort zone? Do you have increased anxiety, confusion, depression, or suspicion?
As we age, it is normal to develop specific ways of doing things and using coping skills when we get upset or experience changes.
- Poor judgement. Is it difficult for you to make decisions? Are you relying on family more and more? Are you paying less attention to your personal hygiene?
Occasionally making a bad decision is normal. We have all done it.
- Struggling with conversations. Are you struggling with following or joining a conversation? Having trouble naming a familiar object? Or naming it wrong? Stop in the middle of a conversation? Do you repeat yourself?
It is normal to have trouble finding the right word or forgetting a name, but it comes to you later.
- Trouble completing familiar tasks. Do you find it difficult to do routine tasks, such as remembering rules of your favorite game, forgetting how to cook a simple meal, trouble driving to a familiar place?
It is normal for these things to happen occasionally.
- Vision or spatial problems. Having problems identifying colors, driving, or judging distance?
An eye exam will determine age-related vision changes like cataracts.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. Are you avoiding friends or family? Can’t complete a work assignment? Lost interest in hobbies?
It is normal to sometimes feel uninterested in family or social obligations.
If any of these signs are disrupting your daily life or if your friends and family are worried about your memory, then it is probably more serious. Your next step is to talk to a professional or someone you trust. Make an appointment with your doctor for a full medical examination. Early diagnosis will give you access to early memory loss programs, discuss medications that may be beneficial, and provide opportunities to educate yourself and your family. St. John’s has Dementia Care Specialists available to discuss your concerns and our Early Memory Loss programs.