Now and again, you might forget where you put your keys or parked your car. Once in a while you may mix up the names of your children, or be unable to recall the name of your doctor’s receptionist. Hopefully, you never forget to turn off the oven or the stove, but that happens also. As you get older, it becomes more challenging to learn new things or remember recent events. Mild memory loss is a normal part of getting older and not a cause for worry. Still, you may wonder, what’s a normal part of aging, and what’s Alzheimer’s?
For some people, the sore knees and aching back that come with old age is easier to accept than the cognitive decline. It takes a little longer to swallow the fact that the brain, which used to learn new concepts quickly, starts to slow. The brain’s cognitive function peaks at the age of 30 and starts to decline faster after 40. However, mild memory loss is common and usually not a problem.
As you get older, the speed at which your brain functions starts to slow. These changes are typically subtle, but noticeable. You might find yourself having a harder time multi-tasking or sustaining your attention. Books that used to keep you interested can begin to bore you after three pages. Changes in parts of the brain (hippocampus, frontal, and temporal lobes) as you age start to affect your brain’s ability to retain information and hold attention. Although it can be bothersome and embarrassing, it doesn’t interfere with your day-to-day activities.
Mild memory loss, also known as mild cognitive impairment, is a change in brain function that’s more than what is expected for a person’s age. Although more pronounced and much less subtle than typical cognitive aging, mild cognitive impairment doesn’t interfere too much with a person’s daily life. They can still go shopping, do the laundry, and cook a meal.
When memory loss starts to get in the way of functioning, then there is cause for concern. If a person can no longer remember how to start the dryer to finish a laundry load, or which road to turn on to get home from work, it may indicate dementia. The causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body disease, and vascular disorders.
Just because you didn’t remember to pay a bill or two doesn’t mean you have Alzheimer’s or dementia. You could be stressed, in a rush, or it could be normal aging. Less than 1% of people over 65 get dementia each year, so the chances that you have it are slim. Nevertheless, the following tips are a few ways to tell if you have normal cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s.
12. Do the Math
You don’t have to be a math whiz, but when cognitive decline starts to affect your basic math, it could indicate Alzheimer’s. Math involves sequential processes and details, both of which a brain in cognitive decline can have problems doing. If you find yourself unable to add and subtract basic numbers or are no longer able to balance your checkbook, you may need to see your doctor for a check-up.
11. Changes in Personality
People who are experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms may have a change in personality. Although they may not realize how much they’re forgetting, people with Alzheimer’s may become frustrated and confused that their world doesn’t seem the same. Becoming easily agitated or suddenly withdrawn, they may exhibit uncharacteristic changes in their behavior. Friends and family may observe their loved ones becoming easily upset when performing common everyday tasks.
10. Losing Keys, Phones, Wallets, Etc.
Some people are naturally forgetful. Even at a young age, they may forget books or leave their wallets on restaurant counters. However, if you start spending most of your time looking for lost items, it can be a sign of severe cognitive decline. Being unable to trace back your steps or recall where you walked meant that there are gaps in your memory you can’t pull from.
9. At the Tip of Your Tongue
“What’s that word again?” We’ve all asked that question before. Forgetting the right word, a movie title, or the name of your fifth grade teacher is not a problem. But if you find yourself unable to remember the name of your sister or the word for “telephone,” it may be worth it to see a healthcare professional. Being unable to recall the word for everyday objects and familiar names show that there may be significant memory loss.
8. Asking the Same Questions
Asking the same questions over and over may not be something you notice, but your family and friends may. Your family may tell you that, “You asked that a minute ago!” or “I just told you the answer.” You may not recall having asked, but they do. Events like this may be something you report to your doctor.Related: 8 Reasons Why Short-Term Memory Loss Happens
7. Time Seems Like a Blur
Every so often, we might forget what day of the week it is. We may even forget what year it is, especially at the start of a new year. However, if it takes much too long to figure out the correct date and time, or you miss your necessary appointments, it can impact your daily life. Being a little late to pick up the grandchildren from school is normal — forgetting to pick them up completely, even when it’s part of the daily routine, is not. When you start to lose track of days, dates, and times regularly, it might be a severe cognitive decline.
6. Getting Lost
You might turn down an unfamiliar road and have difficulty getting back home. That can happen to anyone. But if you find yourself on a familiar route and unable to figure out which way to turn, it can be distressing. It’s also a sign to consult with a healthcare professional.
5. Trouble with Daily Activities
We take the everyday tasks we do for granted, like programming the microwave or working a television remote. If all of a sudden you can’t recall how to check your voicemail or thread your sewing machine — things that you use every day — that can be cause for concern. Losing the ability to perform a familiar task, one that you used to be able to do without thinking much about it, is not an average cognitive decline due to aging.Related: Unlock Your Brain: 14 Proven Memory Boosters That Really Work
4. Relying on Lists and Post-It Notes
Some people are “list people”. They like to write lists and check things off. Others like to use notes as reminders. However, when people begin to experience Alzheimer’s symptoms, they rely on reminders much more often. Loved ones may notice more post-it notes and lists around the home.
3. Difficulty Expressing Thoughts
Telling a story, explaining an event, or expressing an opinion requires word recall and linear thought, which can become extremely difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s. If you have consistently experienced trouble explaining yourself or verbalizing a story to someone else, you may want to get a medical assessment.
2. How to Prevent Cognitive Decline
In the same way that diabetes or heart disease are preventable, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s can also be slowed or prevented. A healthy lifestyle can help keep your brain agile.
Physical activity prevents heart disease and vascular problems, which can cause dementia. Activities that keep the heart healthy can also keep your brain functioning at optimal levels. Engaging in exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Avoiding alcohol and smoking also helps to keep your cardiovascular system strong.
Challenging your mind can also help it stay sharp. For example, taking up new hobbies, becoming a lifelong learner, and remaining socially active exposes the brain to new experiences, preventing it from stagnating.Related: 11 Medications That Cause Memory Loss
1. When to See a Doctor
Keeping regular checkups with your physician is essential for both your physical health and your mental health. Letting your doctor know if you’ve been having memory problems can help intervene much more quickly, should there be any issues.
If you or your family begin to notice any of the symptoms listed, or forgetfulness is preventing you from living the life you want, it might warrant further assessment by a doctor. Daily lapses, consistent forgetfulness, or concern from friends and loved ones can indicate the need for a doctor’s feedback. You may be tempted not to get checked, but doing so keeps you from getting the help you need.Related: 10 Brain Foods to Improve Your Memory and Brain Health