When people learn that I am a Memory Care Director, they often ask me questions or share concerns about the cognitive functioning of a loved one or themselves such as:

  • My mother keeps asking me the same questions. Is she losing it?
  • Do I have early signs of Dementia if I keep losing my cell phone?
  • I keep looking for my glasses and later realize they are on my head. Should I be worried?

There are a lot of reasons one might display absentmindedness and it is important to differentiate forgetfulness from Dementia. Forgetfulness can be caused by normal aging, emotional problems or other treatable conditions.

Normal Aging

Chances are we don’t have the same energy or ability at 60 years old as we did at 6, right? As we age, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. Ordinary tasks take longer to complete, learning new things is a not as easy, and everything slows down a bit. Our brain isn’t firing at the same speed. Thinking is slower and information is not retained as easily. We may forget where we put our glasses or keys.

Emotional Factors

Stress, anxiety, or depression, can present like dementia. It’s not unusual for someone who has experienced a loss, trauma or change in lifestyle such as retirement to display symptoms similar to dementia. They may become irritable, frenetic or apathetic.

Treatable conditions

There are over 100 different types of Irreversible Dementia. There are also Reversible Dementias which are cognitive impairments that are treatable. Physicians will rule out these conditions when assessing for Dementia and they may include but are not limited to:

  • Medication reactions or side effects
  • Metabolic problems & endocrine abnormalities: thyroid disease, hypoglycemia, hyponatremia, hypercalcemia, pernicious anemia
  • Nutritional deficiencies: thiamine (B1), B6, or B12 & dehydration
  • Infections: Meningitis, encephalitis, untreated syphilis, and Lyme disease
  • Subdural hematomas
  • Poisoning (lead, heavy metals, alcohol, recreational drugs)
  • Brain tumors
  • Anoxia/hypoxia (heart attack, severe asthma, heart surgery, smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation, or an overdose of anesthesia)
  • Heart, chronic lung problems

Early Stage Dementia:

Dementia is a group of symptoms that interferes with one’s ability to carry out daily activities and affects areas of thinking, memory, and reasoning.

The Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource. They describe mild Alzheimer’s as follows:

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may function independently. He or she may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects.

Friends, family or neighbors begin to notice difficulties. During a detailed medical interview, doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration.

Common difficulties include:

  • Problems coming up with the right word or name
  • Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
  • Having greater difficulty performing tasks in social or work settings
  • Forgetting material that one has just read
  • Losing or misplacing a valuable object
  • Increasing trouble with planning or organizing

So you can rest easy about losing those glasses or misplacing your cell phone when you are in a rush. Chances are you are just distracted or stressed. Monitor for patterns and seek help if you notice repetitive problems or progressing difficulty in executive functioning.