Should you be concerned about your forgetfulness?

July 11, 2023 in Healthy Living

Everyone forgets things now and again. Where are your car keys? Why did you come into the kitchen? What was your new co-worker’s name? And there are many different reasons your memory may fail you from time to time, including:

  • Stress
  • Overscheduling
  • Depression
  • Low levels of certain key vitamins like B12
  • Thyroid disease
  • Menopause-related brain fog
  • Too much multitasking
  • Too little sleep
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Medication side effects

For a small number of people, however, increasing episodes of forgetfulness and other symptoms could be caused by younger onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease usually affect people who are 65 or older. The younger onset forms of these conditions affect people younger than 65. For some people, symptoms begin in their late 40s, though for the majority of people with these conditions symptoms occur in their mid-50s to early 60s.

Symptoms that could be caused by younger onset dementia

The symptoms that people with younger onset types of dementia experience are the same as those of older people who are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These symptoms can include:

  • Forgetting information you learned recently
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Trouble performing familiar tasks at home or at work
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Having trouble following directions or solving problems
  • Language and word finding problems
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Confusion about dates, seasons, or time
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Trouble retracing your steps to find a misplaced object
  • Problems understanding visual images or spatial relationships

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, the first step is to see your primary care provider, because many of them can be caused by conditions other than dementia. To help guide your conversation with your provider, bring a list of symptoms that are concerning you, when they started, what seems to make them worse or better, how your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life at home and at work, any other recent changes in your health, and a list of all the medications and supplements you take.

Your provider will discuss your symptoms and your personal and family health history and order any initial needed tests that can help rule out other causes for forgetfulness or memory issues.

If your primary care provider believes your symptoms could be caused by younger onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, she or he will refer you to a neurologist who specializes in caring for people with these conditions. The neurologist may order additional tests, including tests to evaluate your thinking skills (memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills, attention), CT, MRI, or PET scans of the brain, and a psychiatric evaluation.

Because this is a serious condition, consider seeking a second opinion to help confirm or change your diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. A health advisor or health navigator can connect you with experienced specialists, provide evidence-based information about the condition and available treatments, and help arrange second opinions.