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Are memory problems an indication of Alzheimer's disease?

Not all short-term memory loss is an early sign of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Mild forgetfulness and memory delays often occur as part of the normal aging process. Older individuals simply need more time to learn a new fact or to remember an old one. We all have occasional difficulty remembering a word or someone's name; however, those with AD will find these symptoms progressing in frequency and severity. The difference between normal forgetfulness or age-related memory problems and early signs of Alzheimer’s could be described like this: Everyone, from time to time will forget where they placed their car keys; an individual with Alzheimer's may not remember the purpose of the keys.

What type of memory does Alzheimer's affect?

One of the hallmarks of early stage Alzheimer's disease is short-term memory loss. Those with the disease lose the ability to perform routine tasks. Keep in mind that while AD affects memory, but it involves far more than simple forgetfulness. Learn about the progression of Alzheimer’s .

What causes memory problems besides Alzheimer’s Disease?

Many conditions can contribute to the development of memory problems and dementia; Alzheimer’s is just one of them. A decline in intellectual functioning that significantly interferes with normal social relationships and daily activities is characteristic of dementia, of which AD is the most common form. Alzheimer’s and multi-infarct dementia (a series of small strokes in the brain) cause the vast majority of dementias in the elderly.

Other possible causes of dementia-like symptoms include infections, drug interactions, a metabolic or nutritional disorder, brain tumors, depression or another progressive disease like Parkinson's.

What is mild cognitive impairment?

Individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have memory impairment (pronounced forgetfulness), but are able to perform routine activities without assistance. Mild cognitive impairment has been identified as one of several major risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s . While all patients who develop some form of dementia go through a period of MCI, not all patients exhibiting mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop AD.

What should I do if I or someone I know is experiencing memory loss and I don’t know if it’s normal forgetfulness or dementia?

If memory loss increases in frequency or severity, makes an impression on friends and family, begins to interfere with daily activities (employment tasks, social interactions, and family chores, for example), seek out qualified professional advice and evaluation by a physician with extensive knowledge, experience and interest in dementia and memory problems.

Learn more about early signs of dementia and warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.


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This content was first posted on: November 4, 2014

The information provided in this section is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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