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Frequent Forgetfulness? Should I Tell My Doctor?

Posted 11/25/2016 by UHBlog

If you or someone you love often experiences lapses in memory, call us for help.

Frequent Forgetfulness? Should I Tell My Doctor?

From time to time, we all forget where we last laid our reading glasses or whether we were seeking butter or coffee when we opened the refrigerator door. Occasional forgetfulness is normal and usually not a cause for concern, says neurologist Karla Madalin, MD.

“Often, if someone does have dementia, they may not be fully aware of the trouble they’re having, so if someone feels they’re having memory trouble, most likely it’s not dementia,” she says. “If someone has dementia, family members usually notice things first.”

Dr. Madalin suggests scheduling an appointment with a doctor if your loved one experiences any of these 10 warning signs:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work and/or leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place; or example, believing they are a teenager who is living in their childhood home
  5. Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships; red flags may include not realizing how closely they are driving to other cars on the road or having difficulty parking within a marked space.
  6. New problems with written and spoken words
  7. Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace their steps to find the items
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities; perhaps they have difficulty following conversations, so they avoid situations that require talking with others.
  10. Changes in mood or personality

“When I evaluate a person for possible dementia, it’s important to bring a family member who may notice things (the patient) doesn’t notice,” Dr. Madalin says. “If I suspect dementia, then in addition to bloodwork, I might do a CAT scan or MRI of the brain to make sure they don’t have other conditions like stroke, a brain tumor or normal pressure hydrocephalus.”

Not all cases of frequent forgetfulness signal the onset of dementia. Other possible causes of memory impairment include:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiency
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Pneumonia
  • Some medications, especially when certain drugs are taken together
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Depression and/or anxiety

Dr. Madalin says it’s important to note that UTIs, pneumonia and some drugs may accelerate the onset of dementia in individuals who are already susceptible to developing it. They include folks who are at risk for stroke (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol), over 80 years old or have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s impossible to prevent all cases of dementia, but there may be ways to delay its onset. Dr. Madalin recommends:

  • Eating a Mediterranean diet, which relies on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and seafood. This reduces a person’s risk of developing dementia, as well as reduces the risk of developing a stroke.
  • Controlling diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Staying active physically
  • Remaining active mentally. Ditch hours of watching mindless TV in favor of reading a book, doing a puzzle or even playing a computer game.
  • Getting enough rest. “If you’re sleep-deprived, your brain will not function normally,” she says.
  • Pursuing hobbies. Whether you enjoy photography or ballroom dancing, just do it.
  • Limiting cocktails. “Alcohol can cause brain damage and the amount it takes to do that may not be very much if someone is susceptible to it,” Dr. Madalin says.
  • Writing notes or to-do lists to stay on task
  • Always keeping items in the same place
  • Focusing on one undertaking at a time instead of multitasking

“The more that people become educated, the better,” Dr. Madalin says. “We don’t have a cure for dementia, but certainly if someone starts on certain medications, that could help. And if it’s not dementia, but depression or another condition,that could be something that could be treatable, also.”

Karla Madalin, MD is a neurologist at University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Madalin or any other doctor online.

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