Seeing an older loved one have a lapse in memory can be worrisome — but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Memory loss is more common than you might think, and it can stem from a variety of conditions. In fact, about 40% of Americans over the age of 65 have some sort of memory loss due to age. However, only 1% will progress to dementia annually.
There are many different risk factors for memory loss, so let’s look at some of the primary causes and what you and your loved one can do about them.
Top 4 Causes of Senior Memory Loss
1. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body & Other Dementia Conditions
While not all memory loss is related to one of these conditions, many are, so we’ll start by addressing them. In Lewy body dementia, the brain’s neural pathways have too many Lewy body proteins, causing changes in brain chemistry and leading to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are still being researched, so the diseases’ exact cause is not known. However, healthy lifestyle choices like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly have been found to minimize one’s risk.
Did you know that depression can sometimes cause memory loss? Fortunately, memory loss caused by depression is often reversible. If you’re concerned about depression in your aging parent or spouse, reach out. Let them know they have a strong support system. If your loved one is open to it, you may also want to talk to them about seeing a counselor or a psychiatrist. Antidepressants and/or therapy could help them improve their memory.
3. Pharmaceutical Interactions
As we age, we may start taking multiple prescriptions for different purposes. Maybe your loved one takes a variety of medications ranging from a Vitamin D supplement to blood thinners and an over-the-counter allergy medication. Sometimes these pills don’t interact well with one another, causing adverse side effects, including memory loss. The best way to understand whether your loved one’s medications may be causing memory loss is to consult their primary care doctor or any specialists they may visit.
4. Stroke or Head Injuries
Sudden, intense memory loss can be a sign of stroke, especially if other symptoms, like slurred speech, one-sided paralysis or sudden loss of consciousness, are present. If you suspect this is the case, call 911 immediately — every second counts in the case of a stroke.
Injuries can also cause memory loss, especially if an older person falls and hits their head. These injuries are essentially bruises to the brain, and quick action can once more help save your loved one’s life.
Age-Related Memory Loss vs. Alzheimer’s & Dementia
As we said earlier, not all people with memory loss have dementia. Forgetfulness is a part of getting older since our brains age with the rest of our bodies. Some memory issues, like forgetting your keys, having trouble remembering what day it is, or even missing a monthly bill payment, are all signs of normal aging.
If these memory slips persist and worsen, though, it could be a sign that something else is happening. Having trouble holding a conversation, making frequent poor decisions, or not knowing what time of year it is would suggest that your loved one might require medical attention.
When to Seek Medical Attention
For both brain injuries and stroke, as we mentioned earlier, do not hesitate. Call 911 or take your loved one to the emergency room immediately.
If the memory loss isn’t sudden, however, there is less of an imminent need to seek care. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be proactive. If you or your loved one are concerned about ongoing memory problems, it’s probably time to make an appointment.
The doctor will likely ask questions about how long you’ve noticed these memory lapses, medication lists, major life changes, and other questions related to the risk factors we mentioned earlier. The benefit of going to a doctor is being able to get a diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin to seek solutions like professional memory care to help your loved one work through this new situation.
As you can see, there are many different causes of memory loss — there are more we didn’t mention here. From infections to fatigue to allergic reactions, there could be any number of reasons your senior parent or spouse is having a lapse in memory. By seeing a doctor, you and your aging loved one can understand the cause and take steps to address it.