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Categories > Aging Well > Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Is memory loss cause for concern?

Your spouse has been forgetting things lately—where he or she placed the car keys, a dentist appointment, even a good friend’s name. The forgetfulness worries you. Are these memory lapses a sign of normal aging or symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s affects parts of the brain that control memory and language. Some 4.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and symptoms typically begin to appear after age 60.

Occasional forgetfulness doesn’t mean someone has Alzheimer’s. Blanking on someone’s name or misplacing keys from time to time is normal. If it happens regularly, however, it could be cause for concern.

When to see the doctor

If your spouse shows any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with his or her healthcare provider:

  • forgetting things, especially information learned recently
  • forgetting common words and using odd words in their place
  • asking the same questions over and over
  • having trouble with everyday tasks such as preparing meals or playing a favorite card game
  • becoming lost in familiar places
  • having sudden and unexplained mood swings or dramatic personality changes
  • ignoring personal safety
  • regularly repeating the same story, word for word
  • struggling to solve simple math problems, pay bills or balance a checkbook
  • neglecting to bathe or change clothes
  • misplacing items in odd places, such as putting car keys in the refrigerator
  • constantly checking or hoarding things of no value

Other reasons for memory loss

Still, these symptoms don’t always mean Alzheimer’s disease. Your spouse’s provider should check for other conditions that may cause memory problems, such as drug interactions, fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, poor nutrition, thyroid problems and minor head injuries. Stress, anxiety and depression can also make a person forgetful. In these cases, memory loss is temporary and can be improved with proper treatment.

No single test can identify Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors arrive at an Alzheimer’s diagnosis after physical, neurological and mental health assessments, as well as lab tests to rule out other conditions. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, the symptoms will become progressively worse, but early drug treatment can sometimes delay decline.

To help keep your spouse’s mind sharp, encourage him or her to develop hobbies and stay physically active. Employ memory aids to ease daily routines, such as posting a big calendar to record appointments, making to-do lists, leaving reminders about safety measures and writing instructions for using household items.