Memory and Aging – Warning Signs

It’s normal for older adults to worry about changes in their memory and thinking abilities, like taking longer to learn new things or forgetting to pay a bill. These changes are usually associated with mild forgetfulness – often a normal part of aging – and not a sign of a serious memory problem.

Know the Difference

Some normal signs of aging include:

  • Making a bad decision once in a while.
  • Missing a monthly payment.
  • Sometimes forgetting which word to use.
  • Losing things from time to time.

Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like caring for oneself, driving, and shopping. Signs may include:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly.
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Not being able to follow instructions.
  • Becoming confused about time, people, and places.
Doctor speaking to a patient

If a patient is experiencing signs of a serious memory problem, talk with the patient and their family members to determine whether the memory and other cognitive problems are normal and to find out what may be causing them.

Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which cannot be reversed.

Talking with your patients and their family members to find the cause of the problem is an important first step to determining the best course of action. From there, conduct a screening test for any patients showing signs of a memory problem to see what might be causing the symptoms. If screening detects a memory problem, refer the patient to a specialist in memory disorders or to a neuropsychologist or neurologist for further evaluation.