Why you should see a doctor if you’re worried about your memory

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it, too.  Forgetting where you parked your car is not uncommon. Once I parked in a four level garage at a mall and walked up and down the stairwell with my then-teenaged daughter, who couldn’t find the car either. I ended up calling security and had the guard drive me through the parking garage until I found the car. That was a bit embarrassing. But forgetting where you parked or the name of a familiar face are common age-related memory lapses. I’ve always been lousy at remembering names of people I know, characters from novels, and the names of movies and actors. That doesn’t mean I’m losing it. My explanation, although it might not be scientific, is that I have so many facts and information stored in my brain that my memory is discretionary.

But if you have difficulty recognizing a relative, find your missing keys in the refrigerator, or get lost driving in the town you’ve lived in for years, you should make an appointment with your health care provider. Because if you do have cognitive impairment, the sooner you get help the better.

One of the first signs that my husband (who died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease) was having memory lapses was that he started getting lost while driving the car in our home town. That scared him, and it scared me. I finally got him to agree to see a doctor, two years after I suspected that something was wrong.

There are lots of reasons to see a doctor if you or your loved one suspects that you are having cognitive difficulties.

  • Individuals who start to forget things or get confused can become depressed, anxious, angry, and/or frustrated because they don’t understand why their thoughts aren’t clear or why they are having difficulty performing certain tasks that were always easy. My philosophy is that knowledge is power. It’s better to know what is happening than to be left in the dark. A consultation with a health professional can help explain what is going on.
  • According to researchers at the University of Michigan, more than half of older adults with signs of memory loss never see a doctor about it. Although there is still no certain way to prevent or forestall most cognitive diseases, knowing that someone has serious memory problems can alert family members and friends to a need for changes in the person’s living arrangements that can be health-or even life-saving. Early evaluation and identification of people with dementia may help them receive care earlier,” says study author Vikas Kotagal, M.D., M.S. “It can help families make plans for care, help with day-to-day tasks including observed medication administration, and watch for future problems that can occur. In some instances, these interventions could substantially improve the person’s quality of life.”
  • If driving becomes difficult it’s important to get an evaluation from your local Driver Motor Vehicle department because of liability and safety issues. This is a very touchy subject and was one of the most difficult thresholds for my husband and me to cross through. He continually blamed me for being the ogre who took away his car keys. But it’s important to know that if a caregiver, spouse or other significant family member knows that a loved one has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, that family member could be held responsible in case of an accident. If, god-forbid, someone is killed, the repercussions could be emotionally, physically and financially disastrous.

What Should You Do?

  1. Make an appointment with your general physician and express your concerns. Your doctor will ask you some questions such as: how are you sleeping at night? How often do you drink alcohol? Are you sedentary? Do you exercise? Are you depressed? What is your typical diet? Your doctor might do a blood panel to determine if you have any organic markers such as low thyroid or anemia that could affect your energy and memory.
    2. Your doctor might give you a brief memory assessment or refer you to a memory clinic for further evaluation. The MMSE (Mini-Mental State Exam,http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/care/psych/on-call-resources/on-call-resourc…) is an eight-minute test that has been used since 1975. According to neurologists, the 10-12 minute MoCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment,http://www.mocatest.org/about/), used since 1996, is more discerning.

Don’t delay. Make an appointment if you or your loved one has memory concerns.

10 Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality

Kotagal V, Langa KM, Plassman BL, Fisher GG, Giordani BJ, Wallace RB, Burke JR, Steffens DC, Kabeto M, Albin RL, Foster NL. Factors associated with cognitive evaluations in the United States. Neurology. 2015 Jan 6;84(1):64-71.



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