The No. 1 Sign Your Forgetfulness Could Be Dementia, Experts Say
If you notice that you can't do this after forgetting something, you should talk to your doctor.
As you age, it's easy for every minor change in your behavior to become suspect. Whether you're moving a bit slower than usual or misplacing things more often, your mind might easily jump to the possibility of dementia. But while it's worthwhile to talk to a doctor if you have any concerns, experts say there's a key difference between the general forgetfulness that comes with aging and the cognitive decline of dementia. Read on to find out what signs you should be looking out for.
If you can't eventually remember what you forgot, it could be a sign of dementia.
Humans can be forgetful, and it doesn't always mean that there's something wrong. Experts say the notable difference between the general forgetfulness of age and early signs of dementia is the ability to eventually recall what you forgot. Johns Hopkins Medicine points out that while it's normal to forget where you left your keys, it's a red flag when you're unable to retrace your steps and figure out where they are. Additionally, leaving things in "more unusual places" and "starting to suspect—without evidence—that people have stolen your missing possessions" are also potential early signs of dementia.
Jeffrey Keller, PhD, founder and director of the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, told the American Heart Association (AHA) that people experiencing normal aging may have some memory lapses here or there, but it's when they're unable to retrace their steps or retain information long enough to execute a multi-part task that there could be a deeper issue at hand.
The context and frequency of the forgetfulness is also important.
Experts say context is essential when it comes to any potential sign of dementia. It's not only a lapse in memory or a moment of forgetfulness that's notable—it's what comes before and after that. "Instead of thinking about things in terms of, 'What is a sign of dementia,' I would ask, 'What is the situation in which those signs appear?'" Keller offered. "It's how the brain functions in response to a challenge that demonstrates early changes that can lead to dementia."
Additionally, Keller noted that it's not just about whether someone is forgetful, but how frequent or severe their memory lapses are, and whether this forgetfulness disrupts daily activities. According to the Alzheimer's Society, in order for a doctor to diagnose someone with dementia, the "person's symptoms must have become bad enough to significantly affect their daily life, not just be an occasional minor irritation." The organization defines this as "having new problems with everyday activities about the house, in the community or at work."
Make sure you're aware of other early signs of dementia.
If you experience frequent forgetfulness, along with other common signs of dementia, you should talk with your doctor. Memory loss, misplacing things, and having the inability to retrace your steps are early signs of dementia, yes, but they're not the only ones, per the Alzheimer's Association. Other symptoms of dementia include trouble planning or problem-solving, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion about time or place, trouble understanding images and spatial relations, trouble speaking or writing, diminished judgment, withdrawal from social activities, and changes in mood or personality.
And be sure to rule out other possible conditions.
Keller pointed out that a handful of these signs could also be the result of another health complication. He said it's important to first rule out other conditions. According to the AHA, changes in how the brain functions, including memory loss, can be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other illnesses. "The first stop is the primary care provider, because the person generally has a relationship with them," Keller advised. "They can make a diagnosis or start a work-up to make sure the changes aren't from another cause."