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How to Detect Senior Memory Loss Early

24 February 2021

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February is National Senior Independence Month, which focuses on giving senior citizens confidence and independence through household safety, use of technology and more. As we age, memory loss is one of the most common factors that can negatively impact quality of life, safety and independence.

In fact, 40 percent of Americans ages 65 and older have age-associated memory impairment. As loved ones age, it can be difficult to detect warning signs of memory loss. It can also be challenging or awkward to point out any declines in cognitive function in a loved one. 

However, memory loss can become dangerous if your loved one is living independently. You may find yourself worrying if they are taking medications properly, turning off their stove or can navigate your local area without confusion. Early diagnosis of memory loss in seniors is crucial to receiving appropriate treatment and achieving a better, safer quality of life.

Types of age-related memory loss

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. You may notice that you or your loved one forgets their keys or has trouble recalling names and dates. These types of things are a natural part of getting older, but not all memory loss is the same.

Experiencing significant memory loss or confusion in yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming and emotional. There are several causes for memory loss in seniors that have distinct warning signs, diagnostics and treatments. Dementia, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease are serious diagnoses that should be detected and treated as early as possible. So, how can you tell the difference?


Dementia is a general term for loss of memory or other cognitive abilities that is serious enough to interfere with your daily life. This can include impairment in memory, reasoning, judgement, language and other thinking skills. Dementia often begins gradually and worsens with age.

Early signs of dementia

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing up words and their meanings
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • Changes in mood or behavior with no apparent cause

Mild cognitive impairment

A mild cognitive impairment involves notable decline in at least one area of thinking skills, such as memory, reasoning, judgement or language. While it’s not as pronounced as the symptoms of dementia, mild cognitive impairment is more notable than normal signs of aging. It doesn’t necessarily interfere with daily life, but in many people, it can progress to dementia. 

Early signs of mild cognitive impairment are the same as the warning signs of dementia but may be isolated to only one thinking skill. Even if it doesn’t interfere with daily activities, it’s important to diagnose and monitor ongoing symptoms. That way you can catch warning signs of dementia should they progress.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. In fact, up to 80 percent of all dementia cases are Alzheimer’s disease. In its early stages, Alzheimer’s involves mild memory loss or confusion. However, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, and in its late stages, individuals completely lose their ability to converse or respond to their surroundings. 

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgement
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality 

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, people diagnosed with Alzheimer's live four to eight years, but can live up to 20 years after diagnosis.

The majority of Alzheimer’s cases occur in individuals over the age of 65. However, it is estimated there are 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 diagnosed with younger-onset or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s has the same early signs but often appears in people in their 40s or 50s. 

When to contact your doctor about memory loss

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging and doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious problem. However, if you notice one or more symptoms of dementia in yourself or a loved one that don’t improve over time, you should contact your doctor for an evaluation. 

Early diagnosis is crucial to establish an appropriate treatment plan. In order to diagnose dementia, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist for memory and mental tests, a neurological exam, bloodwork or brain imaging tests. 

Treatments for memory loss can include medication and cognitive therapy. It’s also important to establish a support system to ensure that you or your loved one are safe when going about your normal daily activities. 

If you have noticed a recent change in your loved one’s cognitive function, memory, language or problem solving, contact INTEGRIS Health Neurology for more information. For more healthy living tips for the whole family, visit our On Your Health blog.


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