When to seek help for memory loss

older woman

Memory loss and aging

Memory loss and dementia

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly.
  • Forgetting common words when speaking.
  • Mixing words up, such as saying “bed” instead of “table.”
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks, like following a recipe.
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer.
  • Getting lost while walking or driving in a familiar area.
  • Having changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason.

Mild cognitive impairment

Reversible causes of memory loss

  • Medications. Certain medications or a combination of medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion.
  • Minor head trauma or injury. A head injury from a fall or accident—even if you don’t lose consciousness—can sometimes cause memory problems.
  • Emotional disorders. Stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities.
  • Sleep disorders. Poor quality or insufficient sleep can cause mental fogginess and forgetfulness that can interfere with a person’s daily life. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common example of a sleep disorder that causes cognitive impairment that can be reversed with treatment of the underlying problem.
  • Alcoholism. Chronic alcoholism can seriously impair mental abilities. Alcohol also can cause memory loss by interacting with medications.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency, common in older adults, can cause memory problems. Learn how to maximize memory function with a nutrient-rich diet.
  • Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, can result in forgetfulness and other thinking problems.
  • Brain diseases. Although less common than other causes, a tumor or infection in the brain can cause memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms.

When to see your health care team

  • When did your memory problems begin?
  • What medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements, do you take and in what doses?
  • Have you recently started a new drug?
  • What tasks do you find difficult?
  • What have you done to cope with memory problems?
  • How much alcohol do you drink?
  • Have you recently been in an accident, fallen or injured your head?
  • Are you having difficulty sleeping?
  • Have you recently been sick?
  • Do you feel sad, depressed or anxious?
  • Have you recently had a major loss, change or stressful event in your life?

The importance of a diagnosis

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