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Senior Moments or Something More - When to Worry

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Contributing Writer, Rosemary Laird, MD

I cannot count the number of times I’ve wished my car keys had a homing device attached to them. Or, that I could remember the name of the new neighbor I’ve been introduced to twice already. Or, where I put my “to do” list. But does the fact that I forget these things from time-to- time mean I have to worry about something as serious as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? Probably not.

Actually, occasional memory lapses and breaks in concentration are quite common at all ages. The most common culprit is not paying close enough attention to the information. For example, sending an email and answering a text message while at the same time discussing dinner plans with your spouse. Sound crazy? It may be, but it’s also the way many of us live our lives these days. No wonder we can’t remember what day it is!

Try these 3 simple and effective steps to improve your memory:

  1. Pay attention and slow down—you need about 8 seconds to make a memory
  2. Stop multitasking-focus on the information you want to remember
  3. Get organized-keep lists; put your keys in one spot, etc.

For most of us these senior moments will be nothing more than embarrassing annoyances. As more and more of us are living longer lives, however, it’s important to understand that the most powerful risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age.

At age 85, each of us will have a 50/50 chance of having Alzheimer’s disease. While some argue it makes little sense to worry about an incurable illness, I advise patients to learn all they can about how to protect yourself (and your brain) from this very real threat. Step one is to understand normal aging-related memory changes in and what’s

Alzheimer’s disease.

Senior Moments vs. Alzheimer’s

It’s key to understand that senior moments happen to everyone now and then. Alzheimer’s disease is much different. It’s a disease that involves the dysfunction and decline of the brain’s ability to function. Think of it as brain failure much like we talk about heart failure when the heart is damaged from disease.

One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss so it’s understandable that senior moments raise concern. However, in Alzheimer’s more than one cognitive process is altered. For example people may forget the day or month, have trouble with finding words or making change at the store. As the disease progresses, it worsens over time and ultimately affects the ability to function.

Typically, Alzheimer’s symptoms develop slowly and steadily over a number of years. If all your symptoms appear over a few months, it is not likely you have Alzheimer’s, but you could have another form of dementia. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s include being older, female, having diabetes, coronary artery disease and/or sleep apnea.

If you’re concerned, talk with your primary care provider about your symptoms. In some cases he or she will evaluate you. In other cases, they may seek out a consultation with a geriatrician, neurologist, or facility that specializes in memory disorders.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vs. Normal Age-related memory changes

Alzheimer’s disease

  • Forgetting recently learned information
  • Difficulty performing job-related tasks that had been well performed in the past
  • Loss of initiative
  • Mood swings that are unusual for someone
  • Change in personality
  • Difficulty performing common tasks such as preparing a meal
  • Forgetting simple words and/or substituting unusual words
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Difficulty with complex tasks
  • Misplacing items and putting them in unusual locations (i.e. not just forgetting where it is but putting the wallet in the refrigerator and not really thinking it’s strange when it’s found there)

Normal Aging-related memory changes

  • Forgetting things like names and appointments
  • Occasionally forgetting why you entered a room
  • Occasional sad or blue days
  • Sometimes having trouble finding the right word
  • Forgetting the day of the week, date, or where you were going
  • Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time
  • Temporarily misplacing keys or wallet
  • Mild personality changes
  • Feeling weary of work or social obligations