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What Is Forgetfulness?

Many older people worry about becoming forgetful.

They think that forgetfulness is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss and confusion can be a normal part of aging. However, most people stay alert and able as they age, even though it may take them longer to remember things.

How Does Forgetfulness Differ from Dementia?

Many people have memory lapses. Some are serious, and others aren’t.

Many medical conditions cause confusion or Alzheimer-like symptoms. Some conditions can be reversed or treated; others cannot. Fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, and poor nutrition can be treated. Reactions to medicines, thyroid problems, or minor head injury can also be helped.

Emotional problems and depression can be mistaken for dementia. Older people who are retiring or coping with death can feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored. They can get confused or forgetful.

People who have serious changes in memory, personality, and behavior may have dementia. The two most common forms in older people are Alzheimer’s disease and multi-infarct dementia. The last kind is also called vascular dementia. These types of dementia cannot be cured.

In Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms start slowly and get worse. In multi-infarct dementia, small strokes or changes in the brain’s blood supply may cause symptoms to start suddenly. High blood pressure can cause this dementia.

Dementia symptoms include asking the same questions often and becoming lost in familiar places. People cannot follow directions and are disoriented about time, people, and places. They neglect personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition.

How Is Forgetfulness Diagnosed?

The health care provider will do physical, neurological, and psychiatric examinations. The health care provider will want a complete medical history.

The health care provider may test blood, urine, memory, problem solving, counting, and language skills. In special cases, brain computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission topography (PET) scans may help the health care provider rule out another disorder or changes of a normal aging brain.

How Is Forgetfulness Treated?

Aging-related forgetfulness needs no treatment. Exercising the mind, having new interests or hobbies, and being involved in activities sharpen the mind. Keeping physically fit stimulates the body. Limiting alcohol can prevent brain damage.

Many people find it useful to plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use notes, calendars, and other memory aids.

Stress, anxiety, or depression can make people forgetful. If these feelings last a long time, treatment may include counseling, medicine, or both.

Even for dementia, a neurologist, psychiatrist, family health care provider, internist, and geriatrician can help people and families cope. A geriatrician specializes in care of elderly people. For people with early and middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease, medicines may keep some symptoms from getting worse. People with multi-infarct dementia should prevent strokes. Controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes and not smoking can do this.

Many people with dementia do not need medicine for mild problem behaviors. Some people may take medicine for mild agitation, anxiety, depression, or sleeping problems.

No special diets or supplements prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease or multi-infarct dementia. However, a balanced diet helps good health and prevent strokes.

Family and friends can help people continue their routines, activities, and social contacts. Big calendars, lists of plans, notes about things to do for safety, and written directions for using household items can help memory.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Forgetfulness:

  • DO visit your health care provider if you are experiencing forgetfulness.
  • DO exercise your mind by developing new interests or hobbies.
  • DO make to-do lists and use notes, calendars, and other memory aids.
  • DON’T drink alcohol excessively.

Contact the following sources:

  • Alzheimer’s Association
    Tel: (800) 272-3900 (24-hour helpline)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center
    Tel: (800) 438-4380

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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