According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, 15.9 million Americans provide more than 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care for family and friends with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Given this staggering statistic, we believe it is important to differentiate between memory lapses which are a normal part of aging and those that are cause for more concern.

Dementia is the name we give to the range of symptoms related to memory loss and decline in cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to function. Many cases of dementia are due to Alzheimer’s disease, but there are other conditions that can contribute. And no matter the cause, getting a proper diagnosis offers the benefits of early treatment.

Here’s a scenario we can all relate to: you walk into a room and forget why you entered. “What was it,” you ask yourself, “that I was looking for?” The fact is, forgetting a phone number, the name of a movie, or even why you walked into a room are often completely ordinary parts of life at any age. But when you’re 65, they may prompt you to wonder if there is cause for concern.

The good news is, occasional memory lapses such as these are common and generally not a cause for concern:

  • Trying to recall something that is on “the tip of your tongue”
  • Calling your daughter by your sister’s name
  • Forgetting where you left glasses or keys
  • Unable to remember the details of a conversation
  • Forgetting if it is Tuesday or Wednesday
  • Forgetting to put your earrings on
  • Forgetting the name of the hotel you stayed at on vacation

However, when forgetfulness begins to affect daily functioning, employment performance, or safety, there may be more going on. The following are cognitive lapses that are not a normal part of aging. And while these seem minor, remember that dementia is progressive. Recognizing early signs is a vital part of managing or treating symptoms.

Signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment:

  • Unable to recall or repeat words that were said to you moments before
  • Unable to identify people in your family
  • Frequently losing or misplacing several items
  • Difficulty following and responding to a conversation
  • Disoriented as to the day, month, season or year
  • Poor personal hygiene or difficulty remembering steps to get dressed
  • Unable to recall a whole event, such as the vacation itself

However, if you or a loved one has a sudden onset of disorientation or delirium, it’s important to consider a medical condition such as an infection. Urinary tract infections, in fact, are a common culprit of sudden memory loss and hallucination in older adults. A simple test can detect such an issue and medication can clear the infection in most cases.

As you probably know from conversations with friends and family, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often difficult to talk about. In my experience, the earlier families can develop an understanding of the conditions and discuss ways of supporting their loved ones, the better able they are cope as a family and utilize the range of options and expertise available.

Darlene Spagnola, Theia’s Director of Client Services