nurse holding hands of senior manMemory loss is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and irreversible form of dementia that impacts mental function and overall quality of life.

Yet age-related brain changes can lead to decreased memory abilities that do not necessarily indicate dementia. To better understand these changes in cognitive health, consider the following factors.

Memory Loss Doesn’t Always Signal Dementia

Aging contributes to physical and mental changes. A person may require more time to recall information or learn a new skill.

Memory loss starts to become a quality of life issue when it affects one’s daily routine and relationships. Roughly 40 percent of older adults experience memory loss, while about five to eight percent develop dementia.

For cases of memory loss not related to dementia, cognitive changes can occur in response to deterioration of the hippocampus, fluctuations in hormone and protein levels, and declining blood flow to the brain. These signs may be strictly age related or in response to an underlying medical condition.

Memory-related issues may manifest as:

  • Mild Cognitive Impairment: This condition is characterized by memory loss, disorientation and difficulty speaking. While you have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, you’re still able to function and go about your daily life.
  • Age-Associated Memory Impairment: You’re forgetful, perhaps with names or where you put your keys, but can still complete daily tasks and learn new information.

Memory Loss and Dementia

For decades, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia were diagnosed in response to memory loss. Today, medical imaging assists with this process, offering insight into the degree of damage and plaque accumulation the brain has experienced, especially in areas that help you maintain and recall memories.

While other symptoms characterize Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, memory loss for these conditions often looks like:

  • Not creating memories from current or immediate events. For example, you cannot recall or remember points of a conversation that just happened. This may include forgetting important dates and events, asking the same questions or needing memory aids to complete daily tasks.
  • Taking longer to recall information – if you remember it at all. If you can remember information without a prompt, including the names of everyday objects, you may be relying strictly on older memories. This factor influences how you function in public. You may walk or drive somewhere and not remember why you’re there or the way home. Day to day, you may have difficulty organizing objects or remembering their place in your home, resulting in “lost” items and accusations of stealing.
  • Losing track of time. You may no longer know the current year, month or season or how long a task took you to complete.
  • Inability to follow conversations. Memory issues could mean you repeat yourself, cannot follow a discussion or stop suddenly in the middle of a conversation. This factor can accelerate cognitive decline, as you withdraw from social situations and no longer partake in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Declining judgement. Your decisions can start to look erratic or irresponsible from an outside perspective, including how you manage money or clean your home.
  • Decreasing problem-solving abilities. Changes in concentration and focus mean you cannot follow directions or use your knowledge to solve a problem. Older adults may stop cooking, no longer remember how to drive around town or forget to pay bills.
  • Inconsistencies: You may have an easier time recalling older memories than newer information. Recollection may be based on repetition, emotions or your senses.

Dementia-related memory issues can mean that you:

  • Routinely forget appointments
  • Cannot recall recent conversations or events
  • Forget new and familiar faces
  • Misplace important items or put them in illogical spots
  • Regularly get lost
  • Cannot prepare basic foods, like a familiar dish or making coffee
  • Have trouble managing medications and finances
  • Are unable to have conversations or remember important details
  • Begin to forget important dates, like birthdays, holidays or anniversaries
  • No longer have a firm daily routine without reminders and guidance
  • Experience difficulties in learning or retaining new information

Helping Someone With Dementia

As a child, spouse or caregiver, start by discussing your loved one’s needs with friends and family to offer assistance. This may be scheduling reminders, labeling items around the home, taking turns preparing food or driving them to appointments.

Also bring your loved one to the doctor for a formal diagnosis. Effectively managing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can help slow the progression and allow your loved one to maintain their quality of life.
Are you concerned about your loved one’s dementia symptoms? West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center has dedicated professionals trained to assist residents with these conditions. To learn more about our services, contact us today.