One in 10 Americans aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that impairs memory and cognitive functioning. The disease’s prevalence increases with age, affecting 3 percent in their mid-sixties to a third of those aged 85 and older. Alzheimer’s is a progressively debilitating condition, and the thought of it striking them can provoke fear among older adults.
Many people mistakenly use the words Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably. But whereas Alzheimer’s is a disease, dementia refers to a list of symptoms that Alzheimer’s shares with other conditions, such as forgetting things and losing track of time. With Alzheimer’s accounting for more than half of dementia cases, it’s little wonder that people get confused.
Whether influenced by fear or confusion, older adults often rush to attribute forgetfulness to early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are many causes of memory loss, including the ones listed below. If you are experiencing memory loss, consult with a healthcare professional before presuming you have Alzheimer’s.
Some prescription medications can weaken memory, whether taken alone or in combination with other drugs. Various sedatives, antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, and other remedies can cause drowsiness or confusion, making it difficult to focus. And as we get older, our bodies become more susceptible to many drugs’ adverse side effects.
If you suspect a medication you’re taking might be affecting your memory, ask your physician or pharmacist about switching to a different drug or an alternate brand.
People commonly associate depression with sadness, unexplained mood changes, trouble sleeping, and decreased energy and drive. Many don’t know that, by preoccupying our thoughts, depression can also impact our ability to remember.
Researchers have found that people experiencing one or more symptoms of depression often complain about memory loss. Thus, researchers surmised that forgetfulness could indicate depression’s presence—or be a potential side effect from it.
If you are feeling sad or depressed, tell your doctor about any noticeable memory loss.
Alzheimer’s is just one disease that can affect a person’s memory. Other conditions, whether temporary or persistent, can produce symptoms that mimic dementia. Hypothyroidism, diabetes, Lyme disease, liver disorders, and urinary tract infections are just a few illnesses that can cause memory loss.
When discussing memory loss with a physician, be sure to mention any medical symptoms you are experiencing. Only by accurately determining the cause of your memory loss can a doctor prescribe the most effective treatment.
Our bodies rely on vitamins for many functions. For example, vitamin B12 helps us produce red blood cells and nerves. A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to feelings of being lost or forgetful.
Most vitamins come from food, so your diet determines whether you get enough. Some health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, affect the way our bodies break down food. And certain medications, such as heartburn or acid reflux treatments, reduce the stomach acids needed to extract vitamins from food.
Ask your doctor to test your vitamin levels and, if necessary, prescribe appropriate vitamin supplements.
People with dementia are usually unaware of their memory loss. Being aware of unexplained forgetfulness or confusion could mean that something other than Alzheimer’s is the cause. But always consult with medical professionals about any memory loss.
And speaking of awareness, November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month. If you are worried that you might have Alzheimer’s, it’s a good time to check with your doctor about getting a thorough evaluation.