Forgetfulness: What’s Normal, What’s Not?
Dear Savvy Senior,
At age 76, my husband has become forgetful lately and is worried he may have Alzheimer’s. What resources can you recommend to help us get a grip on this?
Many seniors worry about memory lapses as they get older fearing it may be the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. To get some insight on the seriousness of your husband’s problem, here are some resources you can turn to for help.
As we grow older, some memory difficulties – such as forgetting names or misplacing items from time to time – are associated with normal aging. But the symptoms of dementia are much more than simple memory lapses.
While symptoms can vary greatly, people with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.
To help you and your husband recognize the difference between typical age-related memory loss and a more serious problem, the Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of 10 warning signs that you can assess at 10signs.org.
They also provide information including the signs and symptoms on the other conditions that can cause dementia like vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy and others – see ALZ.org/dementia.
Another good place to help you get a handle on your husband’s memory problems is through the National Memory Screening Program, which offers free memory screenings throughout National Memory Screening Month in November.
Sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, this free service provides a confidential, face-to-face memory screening that takes about 10 minutes to complete and consists of questions and/or tasks to evaluate his memory status.
Screenings are given by doctors, nurse practitioners, psychologists, social workers or other healthcare professionals in thousands of sites across the country. It’s also important to know that this screening is not a diagnosis. Instead, its goal is to detect problems and refer individuals with these problems for further evaluation.
To find a screening site in your area visit NationalMemoryScreening.org or call 866-232-8484. It’s best to check for a screening location at the end of October, because new sites are constantly being added.
See a Doctor
If you can’t find a screening site in your area, make an appointment with his primary care doctor to get a cognitive checkup. This is covered 100 percent by Medicare as part of their annual wellness visit. If his doctor suspects any problems, he may give him the Memory Impairment Screen, the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition, or the Mini Cog. Each test can be given in less then five minutes.
Depending on his score, his doctor may order follow-up tests or simply keep it on file so he can see if there are any changes down the road. Or, he may then refer him to a geriatrician or neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.
Keep in mind that even if your husband is experiencing some memory problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has dementia. Many memory problems are brought on by other factors like stress, depression, thyroid disease, side effects of medications, sleep disorders, vitamin deficiencies and other medical conditions. And by treating these conditions he can reduce or eliminate the problem.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.