Health and Wellness

Is my memory loss normal?

How to recognize if memory loss is normal or cause for concern and when to seek help.

We’ve all forgotten where we left our keys. As we age, we might experience other functional cognitive and memory problems such as struggling to multitask, having trouble organizing a plan or filtering out background noise.

When is it time to seek help? Heather Palmer, National Director of Cognitive Well-Being for Amica Senior Lifestyles, recommends asking four questions to help monitor the changes you may be experiencing. Most often, the memory changes experienced during aging are normal and have an easily treatable cause.

Image for Conversations Article Is your parent's health declining. Amica senior looking out at window. 

How frequently are these episodes occurring?

The key is frequency. It could be a concern if someone is forgetting everyday tasks more often than usual, or more frequently than others of the same age.

How steep is the decline?

Are the changes increasing gradually or suddenly? Age-related changes begin as early as our 30s. With disease, the decline is more rapid. It’s reasonable to get lost in a new city. It’s a concern if you’re getting lost in your own home.

How do you compare with peers?

When you think about friends your age, how do you stack up in terms of functional performance? Although we all age physically and cognitively at different rates, people tend to sense when their memory change is a concern because it isn’t as sharp as that of their peers.

Are you forgetting while you're paying attention?

The ability to pay attention and concentrate becomes more difficult as we get older. From a pure memory-recall perspective, if information does not get into the brain, then it is simply not there to remember later. Pain, fatigue and worry can interfere with our ability to pay attention, which affects how well we are able to recall information later. If you find yourself trying very hard to pay attention and process information, and still have difficulty remembering, then you should mention this to your doctor.

When you’re faced with sudden changes or more frequent lapses, talk to your doctor. Often the cause is something simple and treatable or indirectly related to another condition. The sooner you seek treatment, the better your odds of slowing any further decline.

Dr. Heather Palmer is a cognitive aging and dementia specialist with more than 30 years of clinical and scientific experience. She focuses on helping individuals improve the way they think, feel and function. As Amica’s National Director of Cognitive Well-Being, she develops cognitive well-being programs for Amica with a heightened focus on memory care and assisted living.

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