A loss of memory is the most common and obvious signs of dementia, but it is important not to rule other possible causes. The best way to tell if the memory loss is associated with any decline in the brain functions is if additional dementia symptoms are present. If these additional symptoms are not present, then it could be due to another medical condition that requires action different from the treatment for dementia.
Additional Signs of Dementia
While other symptoms may not arrive for a number of months or even years, the loss of memory is one of the first signs of dementia. Frequently, it goes untreated as people just assume that the loss of memory is due to their increased age and the normal aging process, rather than anything more sinister. However, the following memory lapses are not considered normal and could also be the initial signs of dementia:
- Repetition – Many children are used to their parents telling them the same stories repeatedly over the course of their lifetime and as a person gets much older, their opportunity for new experiences is reduced sometimes so they will naturally revisit old stories. A key sign of dementia however is to have the same story or repeated phrase in the same conversation or within a very short period.
- Simple tasks – Finding it hard to retain new simple information such as a change in transport times or an online password are instances of normal loss of memory. The inability to perform simple tasks that have been repeated many times, such as paying a bill or washing up after a meal, is a sign that the long-term memory stores in the brain are becoming damaged.
- Sense of direction – Many people of all ages become lost or disoriented in new situations or under certain circumstances such as fog or darkness. However, dementia patients will find themselves unable to recognize their surroundings even in familiar locations and may find it hard to remember landmarks that will point them in the right direction.
Other Possible Causes of Memory Loss
If the loss of memory is not associated with other factors, another medical condition might be causing the memory loss. A doctor will have access to a patient’s full medical history but the patient may not share their problems that cause memory loss with friends and family such as:
- Alcoholism – Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes your body to produce high levels of anti-toxins, which remain in the blood stream long after the alcohol has been broken down. These cause damage to your brain cells and typically target the hippocampus, which is where your brain stores long term memory. This is why alcoholics find it hard to remember what they did the night before, and long-term alcohol abuse will destroy their long-term memories.
- Stroke –High blood pressure bursting blood vessels in the brain causes a stroke. It typically strikes at the motor and language areas of the brain initially, but can also affect the long and short-term memory resulting in memory loss.
- Trauma – The brain has a way of protecting itself against any painful memories or damage to it. This can be why people who have suffered emotional trauma may “forget” about it and why physical trauma such as a blow to the head can be forgotten.
Each of these factors may not be common knowledge as they may have happened a long time ago or they may be something that the sufferer does not want to discuss. However, if you have concerns about someone’s loss of memory do not be afraid to express them, as early intervention may delay the debilitating effects of dementia.
Testing for Memory Loss
For some people, testing for memory loss is not as important, as their friends and family will notice differences in their responses and their day-to-day routine. However, it is important to undertake regular dementia testing, as you get older to catch any early warning signs.
This can be in the form of a simple memory test of what you have done in the previous day, getting people to quiz you on certain long-term memories or taking online memory tests for arbitrary bits of information. You will need to find a way to record your progress as it is very hard for an individual to monitor his or her own memory loss.
The most important thing to bear in mind about a loss of memory is that at certain times, especially as you get older, forgetting things is entirely natural and part of the aging process. These include forgetting new information, names or where you left things.
If you have any concerns that you may be developing dementia you should talk to your doctor who is able to give you clinical, diagnostic tests and who can prescribe medication, if necessary, to help slow down any symptoms.
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