Signs Your Memory Loss is Not Normal and You Should See a Doctor
We've all been touched by memory loss. Whether personally (TBI, Post-COVID, Dementia) or someone we love. The thing is, there is a lot we can do if we are empowered with information. I trained in both psychiatry and neurology because all aspects of how we experience memory loss are important. This includes feeling depressed or anxious, to how we diagnose specifically what kind of memory loss we are experiencing, and what to do about it. In my experience, the more specific I can be with someone about what is going on with their memory, the better. Nobody likes feeling uncertain about something they are experiencing. Not knowing why memory is changing can be scary. Once we are given specific information, we can act, and do something about it. Autonomy and choice are central to being human.
In the early stages, it might be difficult to distinguish between natural aging, stress, and cognitive deterioration. There are more than 80 distinct forms of dementia. It is common to disregard the early warning signals, but if memory lapses are frequent enough to cause concern, it is essential to seek assistance. There may be an underlying, treatable condition. It is essential to take a proactive stance towards cognitive impairment. If you're concerned about your brain health or the health of a loved one, ask about cognitive testing during your next doctor's visit. There are specialized and digital tests that help diagnose different types of memory loss at various types of stages. There is always someone available to listen, support and guide you.—Dr. Reza Hosseini Ghomi is a practicing neuropsychiatrist, focused on neurodegenerative disorders and is serving as Chief Medical Officer at BrainCheck.
Something "Feels Off"
The first warning sign of memory loss typically begins with the gradual realization that "something is off". Patients might observe a somewhat slower thinking, or have a more difficult time grasping basic language. For example, if attempting to ask, "have you seen my right shoe", the term "shoe" may escape you while you try to describe and define what you want. You might observe that navigating or following directions becomes more difficult. Another example is repeating yourself or asking the same question multiple times. An illustration of this would be entering a room and immediately forgetting why you are there. An intuitive person would have the sense that there has been a "change in themselves." When reaching out, if you are a person who is intuitive or aware at this early stage, may be met with comments that are dismissive. However, at some point in time, other individuals will eventually become aware of it.
- Making errors while attempting to write bills or double or triple paying a bill.
- Feeling less comfortable in the kitchen or leaving the stove on
- Disoriented when driving or relying on GPS to get home from familiar places
- Changes in your normal routine
Due to not following a routine, hygiene may begin to deteriorate, and the consistency of laundry and other chores may decrease. It is possible for the affected individual to have varying degrees of awareness and to make comments about differences they notice in their behavior.
Other People Are Concerned
The third warning sign of memory loss has stronger symptomatic signs. It is where others close to you often reach out and express a concern. Particularly, when you don't remember a recent activity or conversation. This is usually an escalation point. It is possible that you will start utilizing more simplified language or incongruent terminology that does not make sense. Generally, the rule of thumb is that slowing down is normal. Were you someone that always remembered names or addresses easily? Things that you always did may start to slip more frequently and become more noticeable. Examples include completely missing an appointment, being less engaged, and more apathetic. Others may say that you do not look very energetic or even appear "spacey". In addition, the amount of activity that people perform typically decreases, and they become more stationary.
You Forget Important Things
The fourth warning sign of memory loss often occurs during the physician-based diagnosis, and you are likely seeing your primary care doctor and perhaps a specialist. By this stage, both you and those around you strongly sense that something is wrong. Names of friends or acquaintances or important dates may escape you. Often a more severe apathy sets in, and it is possible that you will have mental fogginess. You are still functional, but impaired, and thoughts and feelings may be scattered. You may experience instances of not knowing where you are or how you got there. You may experience emotions such as becoming suspicious, confused, anxious, or even fearful of those close to you. Engaging in a full conversation may become difficult.
The Last Word From Doctor
With various warning signs for memory loss to look out for, it is equally important to understand which areas of cognition are not necessarily affected as one ages. This graph shows average cognitive performance across areas of cognition for different age groups. The main takeaways are numeric ability (yellow line) and verbal ability (purple line) should not change much at all with age. It's common to see some small variation in the other domains as one ages. Memory loss warning signs may also include various behaviors that are sometimes difficult to track. You may align yourself more and more with others when answering questions, when you classically would go against the grain. Your partner may instinctively answer questions on your behalf if they pick up a delay. You may rely more heavily on technology like GPS, Alexa, or Siri to assist in filling gaps.