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Memory Loss: When to Get Checked

Updated on May 3, 2017

Have you forgotten where you put your keys occasionally? Have you started a new job, ran into the coworker you just met an hour ago, and blanked on their name? We all forget things once and a while, and it becomes more common as we age. But as we also, know, forgetting can be a warning sign of something serious, like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Here is a handy checklist to know when it’s just normal forgetting and when to get checked:

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Normal or Not?

1) Normal: You walk into a room and forgot why you went in there

It happens to the best of us – we go upstairs to look for those knitting needles to start a new project. Then, we find ourselves in our craft room and wonder why we went up there in the first place!

2) Get Checked: You’ve been knitting for years, but forget how to do a simple stitch

Or anything you do daily – forgetting simple tasks you know how to do, such as paying bills or dressing yourself, is a sign that your or your loved one’s memory loss goes beyond simple aging.

3) Normal: Calling your grandkid by your child’s name

When you were a parent, you often called your kids by their sibling’s (or even the dog’s sometimes!) name. Now your kid has kids of their own and especially if they look or act like your kid did, you might slip up and call them by their name. That’s normal and even your own children mess up and call their kids by the wrong names – even the dog’s!

4) Get Checked: You get lost in your own neighborhood

Or on your commute (if you’re still working), or to the grocery store you’ve been going to for years. If you can’t find your way to and fro on routes you should know, get it checked out!

5) Normal: What was that part in the movie I just saw?

Forgetting parts of new information is normal, especially if you remember it later.

6) Get Checked: You’re forgetting whole chunks of time (and seldom recalling them).

Do you forget how you spent an entire afternoon? Was yesterday a complete blank when you try to recall it? If, especially if you don’t start remembering after a certain amount of time, you find yourself forgetting long periods of time, see your doctor.

7) Normal: The Ups and Downs of Moods

Everyone feels sad and angry now and then. Even if you start feeling yourself becoming sadder and angrier, it doesn’t necessarily signal dementia…

8) Get Checked: Your Personality is Doing a 180

… Unless you find that your personality, your core being is changing along with your moods. If you’re jolly usually and find yourself acting more irritable and “not yourself,” that is a symptom of dementia. Even though memory and personality seem like they don’t have to do with each other, a personality change can signal that your brain is deteriorating.

9) Normal: Forgetting New Information In a New Place

If it’s your first time in a shopping center or a new store, it’s OK to feel a little lost and confused, especially if the place is big. If you have a hard time remembering how to get around in a new place, remember that it takes longer to learn new things and situations as you age (so long as it is a new place and not a place you’ve been many times before, see point 4)

10) Get Checked: Overwhelming feeling of discomfort or disorientation in a new place

But if you feel incredibly anxious in new situations when you haven’t before, and are very resistant to change and new settings, that could signal cognitive impairment. Ask yourself: why are you avoiding new things? Is it because you’re a creature of habit and always been (normal), or is it becoming significantly harder for you to navigate new places lately (get checked).

We All Have Those Days

Remember the rule of the thumb: If you forget small things from time to time, that’s OK. We've all had those days, sometimes weeks where we feel a little foggier than usual. But when you forget things you’ve remembered routinely, instinctively, for years and especially if you have a hard time recalling them after you’ve forgotten, go see your doctor right away!

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