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Alzheimer's Disease

Normal Forgetfulness or Alzheimer's?


Medical Reviewer:

Chi Chau, MD

Medically Reviewed On: September 19, 2013

While many people over 60 say they have "senior moments" when they forget a neighbor's name or look for eyeglasses that are perched on top of their head, most age-related forgetfulness doesn't significantly interfere with daily life. However, memory loss and confusion due to Alzheimer's disease is more severe and can wreak havoc on the lives of both the patient and their loved ones.

But how can one distinguish between age-related forgetfulness and the early signs of Alzheimer's disease, a progressive form of dementia that affects an estimated 4.5 million older Americans? Below, Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, discusses the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and how doctors, patients and their families can work together to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis is made.

Is memory loss a part of normal aging?
Some forgetfulness is common and felt to be a part of normal aging. If you forget incidental items, like where you put the checkbook or the car keys, that is probably normal. Since many people don’t spend a lot energy paying attention to this type information, it can be easily forgotten.

Another common forgetfulness of aging is having trouble remembering the names of people that are in your outer social circles, like acquaintances you rarely see. Struggling to come up with their name is common, and it might take several minutes before the epiphany of "Oh, of course, that was Bill."

However, when you start forgetting pertinent information, this can be a sign to seek advice from a healthcare professional. This applies to any information that you actually spent time and effort trying to remember such as doctor appointments or a family member’s name.

Forgetting one appointment, as an isolated event, is not necessarily abnormal. But when you look back and there’s a pattern of forgetting appointments or to meet friends for lunch, this might be sign of early Alzheimer’s. And if close family members or friends are starting to notice your recent forgetfulness episodes, then this matter deserves further attention.

What about people who were always forgetful?
Some people are characterized by others as being absentminded, and, if that's been a lifelong pattern, then that's not too worrisome. However, if a close family member or good friend notices a recent or dramatic change in your thinking ability or forgetfulness, then you should visit your doctor to have it checked out.

What are symptoms of Alzheimer's disease other than memory loss?
Outside of the loss of memory, you may experience changes in your ability to carry out certain daily functions. For example, if you were the finance person in the family that balanced the checkbook and filed the taxes, and now you're having difficulty paying the bills that might be significant.

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