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Forgetfulness vs. Dementia

All of us are forgetful from time to time. If I am to be completely honest, I sometimes secretly
worry that I’m in the beginning stages of dementia when I cannot remember the name of some celebrity or band. I’ll be watching tv and ask my wife, “What’s the name of the guy in the movie with the kid?” Remarkably she usually knows what I’m talking about. I wonder, was it too many collisions in high school football, a lack of sleep, or is it possible that I have some degenerative brain issue that runs in my family? Why isn’t my memory as sharp as it used to be?

The brain does change over time, and some memory issues may be tied to those changes. Still, there is a difference between occasional forgetfulness, normal memory loss due to aging, and more serious generative illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Occasional forgetfulness of something small might be due to some sort of emotional stress, such as caring for a sick loved one or a difficult job. It might be that you are distracted by an overly long list of errands or even that you didn’t get enough sleep from the previous night. Some people also experience a gradual loss in memory due to age. This is usually a natural decline that is very gradual and does not significantly impact daily living. There is another portion of the population, however, that suffers a more serious form of memory decline, which may warrant some form of intervention. It is the more serious memory decline that we should be concerned with, and it is important that you and your care team recognize the signs and symptoms.

Assuming that you are not just sleepy or distracted, forgetting to take out the garbage occasionally or forgetting a person’s name that you barely know is normal and nothing to be worried about. More serious memory problems are those that affect your quality of life and/or the safety of you or those around you. Examples would be forgetting how to get home from the grocery store or the name of a close family member. Other signs of more serious problems may be repeatedly asking the same questions, not attending to basic hygiene, or becoming confused by the time or date.

Whether you are dealing with normal age-related forgetfulness or suffer from a more serious condition, there are a few simple things you can do to improve your quality of life. Exercise your brain like you would your body. While doing crossword puzzles are beneficial, try learning a new skill or language and read often. Also, follow a daily routine and make to-do lists. If you don’t have close friends, make some. Join a club or have coffee with friends regularly. Socialization has been shown to be a key to keeping both your mind and body young. Last, it is always a good idea to take care of yourself through a healthy diet and exercise program and get lots of quality sleep.

If you or a loved one is showing signs of more serious memory issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, begin with an open and honest conversation. Make sure to include your primary care physician. They may want to monitor your condition or may refer you to a specialist for further testing. The earlier you address these concerns, the greater your ability to treat your condition.