How can I tell if my memory problems are serious?
A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living. If you
sometimes forget names, you're probably okay. But you may have
a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do
things you've done many times before, getting to a place you've
been to often, or doing things that use steps, like following a
Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is
that normal memory loss doesn't get much worse over time. Dementia
gets much worse over several months to several years.
It may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem.
Talk to your family doctor about any concerns you have. Your doctor
may be able to help you if your memory problems are caused by a medicine
you're taking or by depression.
Some change in memory is normal as we grow older, but the symptoms
of Alzheimer’s disease are more than simple lapses in memory.
People with Alzheimer’s experience difficulties communicating,
learning, thinking and reasoning — problems severe enough
to have an impact on an individual's work, social activities and
The Alzheimer's Association has developed a checklist of common
symptoms to help you recognize the difference between normal age-related
memory changes and possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s no clear-cut line between normal changes and warning
signs. It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor if a
person’s level of function seems to be changing. The Alzheimer’s
Association believes that it is critical for people diagnosed with
dementia and their families to receive information, care and support
as early as possible.
10 warning signs of Alzheimer's:
1. Memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information is one of
the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget
more often and is unable to recall the information later.
What's normal? Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often
find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may
lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone
call or playing a game.
What's normal? Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room
or what you planned to say.
3. Problems with language. People with Alzheimer’s disease
often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their
speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find
the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for "that thing
for my mouth.”
What's normal? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
4. Disorientation to time and place. People with Alzheimer’s
disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they
are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home.
What's normal? Forgetting the day of the week or where you were
5. Poor or decreased judgment. Those with Alzheimer’s may
dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little
clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away
large sums of money to telemarketers.
What's normal? Making a questionable or debatable decision from
time to time.
6. Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer’s
disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks,
like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used.
What's normal? Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.
7. Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may
put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch
in the sugar bowl.
What's normal? Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily.
8. Changes in mood or behavior. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease
may show rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – for
no apparent reason.
What's normal? Occasionally feeling sad or moody.
9. Changes in personality. The personalities of people with dementia
can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious,
fearful or dependent on a family member.
What's normal? People’s personalities do change somewhat with
10. Loss of initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s disease
may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping
more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities.
What's normal? Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations.