Memory loss: it presents a number of difficulties, both for you and for a loved one dealing with that memory loss. If you've noticed your loved one becoming more forgetful with age, your mind may jump to the obvious question: could this be a symptom of Alzheimer's or dementia? While some memory loss in a senior loved one can point straight to Alzheimer's or dementia, there are also other considerations that could make a difference in your loved one's diagnosis.
Potential Causes of Memory Loss
Both Alzheimer's and dementia can cause symptoms of memory loss. However, there are also several other potential causes for memory loss in an aging loved one.
Many medications carry a wide range of side effects, potentially including memory loss. If you've noticed your loved one's memory deteriorating, especially if it took a sudden turn for the worse, consider what changes have recently been made in their medications. Taking the wrong medication or the wrong combination of medications can substantially impair memory, while changing it up or removing the offending medication, under the direction of a doctor, could cause a fast improvement.
If your senior loved one is under a significant amount of stress, whether struggling with health problems in a spouse or wondering how they're going to take care of paying the bills, it could cause challenges with memory, too.
Depression or anxiety
Both depression and anxiety can cause problems with memory, which means that if your loved one is struggling with emotional challenges you could see some changes in their memory, too.
A wide range of medical problems can cause symptoms of memory loss--and it doesn't necessarily have to relate to Alzheimer's or dementia. Kidney disorders, thyroid problems, or even simply low vitamin B12 levels can all cause symptoms of memory loss, as can many types of injuries.
Illness or injury
In some seniors, illness can lead to increased confusion, as can severe injury--even an injury that has nothing to do with the head. If your loved one is recovering from serious medical complications, that problem alone could contribute to memory loss.
Is It Alzheimer's or Dementia?
If you've noticed your loved one having memory problems, consider bringing it up with their doctor at their next appointment. Even if you suspect another cause, a doctor can help narrow down the potential causes of the memory issues and help get your loved one in a better place. Is it Alzheimer's or dementia? Consider some of these signs:
Trouble keeping up with the flow of conversation
Rather than occasionally losing the word they're looking for, they find themselves constantly struggling to find the right words or to participate effectively in a conversation.
Memory loss appears to worsen significantly over time
While some age-related memory loss is normal, many people with Alzheimer's or dementia may seem to decline significantly within a short period of time.
Trouble remembering names
It's normal to not be able to remember the name of someone you only see a couple of times a year. If your loved one starts to forget the names of their children or grandchildren, on the other hand, it may be time for a more thorough evaluation.
Losing track of time
They regularly forget the date, the time of day, or even the year, even after reminders.
Any time that you suspect your loved one has significant memory loss, you need to act. Offer to go with your loved one to their next appointment with their doctor or sit down and have a conversation about your concerns--and be sure to let them know that you support them as they move through this difficult time.