The University Doctors

Should you worry about memory loss?

Regardless of your age, forgetting where you left your car keys, cell phone, or the name of someone you just met can be frustrating and, at times, embarrassing. If you’re older, though, situations like those may cause you to wonder if you’ve just had a momentary memory glitch or if you’ve experienced an early symptom of something more serious. As we grow older, it’s normal to experience some changes in our memory. Physiological changes can cause our brains to begin to process information differently. We may require more repetition to learn new tasks and may not be able to retrieve stored information as quickly. At the same time, decreased hearing or diminished eyesight can limit the ability to absorb new information correctly.

Some medications commonly cause memory problems and several medical conditions will also affect memory. Even though these memory problems can be frustrating, they can usually be successfully treated and managed with the help of a physician, who can treat underlying medical conditions, adjust or change medications, or suggest strategies to help compensate for memory loss.

Of course, for many individuals, the biggest worry lurking behind a memory lapse is the concern that Alzheimer’s or a similar disease could be the cause. Without an evaluation by a physician it would be impossible to know for sure, but there are a few indicators to look for. If you forget the name of someone you just met or sometimes fumble to recall a specific word during a conversation, you’re probably experiencing a temporary – and very normal – memory glitch associated with aging. If, however, you notice that forgetfulness is so frequent that it is interfering at work or at home, or if you find yourself unable to recall how to do specific tasks, such as preparing a favorite recipe or getting from one location to another, you should let your physician know. It’s important to remember that having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a disease like Alzheimer’s, but the only way to be sure is to have a thorough assessment by a physician or health professional who is familiar with the causes of memory problems. At the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging in Stratford, we provide a Memory Assessment Program (MAP) that uses an interdisciplinary team to evaluate whether or not an individual’s memory problems are cause for concern.

During an evaluation, MAP team members – including a geriatric neurologist, geriatrician, a geriatric psychiatrist and a social worker – assess any level of memory impairment and then meet with the patient and family members to discuss the results of the evaluation and help plan for the future. Additionally, you may qualify for one of several clinical trials programs. These trials provide certain qualifying patients access to the newest treatment options available for Alzheimer’s disease. The program enables patients and their family members to make a difference for themselves and for the future of people who may suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. It is a wonderful way to give back to society.

As with any health concern, the sooner an individual seeks help with a memory problem, the better off that person will be. Even memory problems that are caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s can be treated with great success. Today, physicians have an array of medications and therapies that can help individuals to maintain their quality of life, regardless of the cause of their memory problems. For most individuals, this means nothing more than the sort of routine followups with a physician that would be expected for treating any chronic medical condition.

In fact, about 95 percent of individuals with memory problems are able to continue living in the community.

7/18/08

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