As we become more aware of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias as a society, we’re better equipped to spot the early warning signs of the disease and get friends, family or even ourselves to seek medical care sooner.
But with greater awareness, it can become confusing to recognize the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and more-serious short-term memory loss.
For those aged 50 and older, you might wonder how you’re performing for your age. It is common to experience changes in memory, thinking and physical ability as the years go by; but some symptoms could indicate an underlying condition is at play.
To help keep your brain healthy and active well into your later years, Banner Sun Health Research Institute offers free brain health check-ins.
When I see patients, there are a few areas where people tend to be concerned. It can be related to their difficulty to learn new information as easily or as quickly or to multitask like they used to.
Sometimes it’s about word-finding; they may begin to have more of what we call “tip of the tongue” moments, where they know what they want to say but can’t quite come up with the right word to convey it.
These are memory and thinking challenges, but the why behind it is usually a bit more indicative of what is going on and whether you should worry.
When it comes to evaluating short-term memory complaints, I like to dive a bit more into how it might be disrupting daily life, in addition to what else is happening in the moment.
Sure, you might have a harder time recalling detailed memory over time.
Do you remember what you had for dinner yesterday? Maybe.
How about seven days ago? Probably not.
How about the inability to remember much from a social event you were at, because your thoughts were preoccupied? Or you can’t remember why you traversed from one room in your house to another (absent-mindedness)?
Or the name of someone you know but haven’t seen in a while suddenly escapes you, but the name pops up later in your mind (blocking)?
One of my patients reported that in conversation she referred to the company “Lumber Liquidators” as “Liquid Lumberdators.”
These are all normal memory or thinking errors.
As I obtain more detail about memory symptoms, I am most concerned about an inability to store and then later retrieve recent information despite good attention span, happy mood, wakeful state, no distractors, no undue external stressors, and no systemic illness, which may be exacerbating forgetfulness.
Even if you haven’t noticed any of the 10 warning signs in yourself or loved ones, uncertainties may remain, especially about the warning sign about memory.
Please always discuss these symptoms with your primary care doctor.
You can also sign up for a free assessment by Banner Sun Health Research Institute’s Center for Healthy Aging team to review your brain health status. They can help sort out what is, and what may not be, normal cognitive aging.
When in doubt, check it out!
David Weidman, M.D., is a neurologist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. Free brain health checks are available 10 a.m.-2 pm. Monday-Friday. For more information or to make an appointment, visit www.sunhealth.org or call (623) 832-5747.