Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my memory problems are serious?
As we age, we all experience normal changes in memory and cognitive functioning; however, if your memory problems consistently interfere with your social, vocational and family roles, then you may need an evaluation.
What are some signs that memory problems may be a concern?
A person with memory problems may may intially repeat themselves; fail to fill their prescriptions, forget to pay bills and arrive to appointments.
So if I have memory problems, this means thay I have Alzheimer's Disease?
No, Alzheimer's Disease is one of many causes of memory problems. Some of the causes are reversible, others no. Among the typical causes of memory problems include:
• Examples of medications that can interfere with memory include over-the-counter and prescription medications such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, anti-anxiety, antidepressants, pain medication etc.
• Alcohol and illicit drug use
• Heavy alcohol use can cause deficiencies in vitamin B1 (thiamine), which can harm memory. Both alcohol and illicit drugs can change chemicals in the brain that affect memory.
• Stress and Depression
• Stress, particularly due to emotional trauma, can cause memory loss. Depression, which is common with aging, cause a lack of attention and focus that can affect memory. Ususally treating this conditions could improve mood and the memory problems may then also improve.
• Head Injury
• A blow to the head can cause a loss of consciousness and memory loss. This is not unusual in the elderly patient with balance difficulty. In fact the aging process is also accompany by some degree of brain atrophy, which could certainly affect negatively the outcome of a head injury. These type of memory problems tend to stay the same, or even at times improve.
• Thyroid Dysfunction
• An underactive or overactive thyroid can interfere with remembering recent events.
• Sleep Deprivation
• Lack of quality of sleep, whether from stress, insomnia, or sleep apnea, for example can affect memory. A thorough evaluation of sleep is necessary in some instances to determine if it is indeed the main cause of memory problems.
• Nutritional Deficiencies
• Deficiencies of vitamins B1 and B12 can affect memory. Such deficiencies can be treated quite easily sometimes remarkably improving the symptoms.
• Normal Aging
• As part of the normal aging process, there should be an age related memory decline which is normal of the developmental process.
• Mild Cognitive Impairment
• Mild Cognitive Imapirment is a condition characterized by a memory deficit beyond that expected for age, which is not sufficient to impair day-to-day activities.
• Dementia is a term used for a condition in which there is increasing impairment of memory and other aspects of thinking that are sufficiently severe to impair day-to-day activities. There are many causes of dementia, but the most common is Alzheimer's disease, in which therre is a progressive loss of brain cells accompanied by others abnormalities of the brain. A diagnosis of Alzheimer's Diesease is made by comfirming that a patient has dementia and by excluding other conditions that could be affecting brain functions.
Is there really something that can be done about memory loss and cognitive decline?
Yes. As more and more research is done, we are continually making advances in medication and other rehabilitative treatments. The important thing to consider is that the earlier we identify specific brain changes in an individual, the more options and benefits can be derived from treatment.
The San Mateo Memory Center