Try some of these neuroscientist-approved ways to improve your memory. The Center for Teaching &…
Wondering What to Do About Memory Problems? Ask Yourself These 8 Questions.
While mild forgetfulness is often a normal part of aging, significant memory loss is a sign of another health condition. If you’ve noticed changes with your ability to remember things and are wondering what to do about memory problems, asking your doctor these eight questions can start the conversation to get you the support you need.
1. Is My Memory Loss a Normal Part of Aging?
It’s normal to occasionally forget where you put your glasses or sometimes have trouble remembering a word. However, experiencing big changes in memory, problem-solving, or thinking is not normal.
Symptoms of significant cognitive changes and memory loss include:
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Becoming more impulsive
- Experiencing difficulty taking care of familiar tasks, such as following a recipe
- Frequently forgetting the date
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Having trouble with social interactions
- Making frequent poor or unsafe decisions
- Regularly misplacing items and being unable to find them
Talk with your doctor about the symptoms you’re noticing. They can help determine how serious your memory issues are and what the underlying cause could be.
2. Is Alzheimer’s Disease the Only Cause of Severe Memory Problems?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and is a possible cause of severe memory problems. However, memory loss and dementia are not the same. Several other health conditions can affect memory, including many reversible causes of memory loss.
Conditions that may affect memory include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Anxiety, depression, or high levels of stress
- Brain cancer
- Brain infections
- Certain kidney or liver conditions
- Conditions that affect the thyroid gland
- Head injury
- Hearing or vision issues
- Heart or lung conditions that prevent enough oxygen from reaching the brain
- Medication side effects
- Some cancer treatments
Sometimes, it can be challenging to determine what’s causing memory loss. Your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and may recommend testing to determine the cause and the best treatment options for you.
3. If I Have a Relative with Dementia, Will I Also Develop It?
If you have a sibling or parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, your risk of developing the condition increases. However, many family members of people with dementia never develop it themselves.
Still, it’s vital for your doctor to know if someone in your family has dementia. This will help them monitor you for early signs and symptoms.
4. What Can I Do to Prevent Memory Problems?
Making healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent several conditions that may affect memory. You can support brain health by:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol
- Managing chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes
- Participating in a hobby or learning a new skill
- Seeking out mental health support when you need it
- Spending time with family members and friends
Your doctor can also make recommendations specific to your unique healthcare needs, lifestyle, and preferences.
5. What Are Tips for Living with Short-term Memory Problems?
If you have mild short-term memory issues, there are many techniques you can use to stay on top of everyday tasks:
- Follow a consistent daily schedule.
- Keep a to-do list and refer to it often.
- Put essential items, such as your glasses, keys, phone, or wallet, in the same place.
- Use a calendar to write down appointments and other important dates.
If you need more than a few quick tips, your doctor may recommend occupational or speech therapy. An occupational therapist can help you live well with memory loss by teaching you how to establish routines and adapt your home and daily activities to meet your needs. A speech therapist can provide treatments to strengthen cognitive skills, including communication skills, problem-solving, and short-term memory.
6. Is There a Test for Dementia?
While there isn’t a test that can tell you if you have dementia, a neurologist, who specializes in diagnosing and treating brain conditions, can make an accurate diagnosis.
To diagnose dementia or other conditions that may be affecting your memory, a neurologist will ask about your symptoms, get a thorough medical history, and order tests. The tests you receive will depend on your symptoms and unique medical history.
Your neurologist might order:
- A neurological exam that checks coordination, eye movements, reflexes, sensation, and speech
- Blood tests
- Cognitive tests to determine the degree of memory impairment
- Genetic testing
- Hearing or vision testing
- Imaging exams
- Psychological testing
These can help detect dementia and other possible causes of memory loss. Depending on your test results, they may recommend seeing another specialist, too.
7. Can Memory Loss be Treated?
Treatment for memory loss depends on the underlying cause. For example, if your memory issues are caused by a treatable condition, such as an infection, your physician may order antibiotics. If a mental health condition is the cause, you may benefit from medication, talk therapy, and techniques to manage stress.
In the case of dementia, there is no cure, but treatments may help manage symptoms or slow the progression of the brain disease. Treatments vary depending on the type of dementia and may include:
- Occupational, physical, or speech therapy
- Talk therapy specifically designed for people with dementia
- Treatments to manage other chronic conditions
Your care team will work with you to create an individualized care plan based on your diagnosis and symptoms.
8. Should I See a Neurologist?
If memory problems affect your daily life, it’s time to get help. The first step is to talk with your primary care provider.
To prepare for your appointment:
- Be ready to talk about your personal and family medical history.
- Make a list of changes you’ve noticed and how long they’ve been happening.
- Write down all prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and vitamins you’re taking. Include how much you take and how often.
Bring this information to your appointment. After talking with you and conducting a physical exam, your provider will recommend the next steps. Often, this includes making an appointment with a neurologist for an additional exam and testing.
Take the first step toward improving your memory. Find a Carson Tahoe Health provider who can help.