What To Do At the First Signs of Memory Loss

Prompted by fear of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, many older adults panic the moment they start to forget names, lose things, or have trouble coming up with the right word. And while symptoms like these can be an early indicator of a serious problem, that’s not always the case. Know that a certain amount of memory loss is a normal part of healthy aging.

Simply put, memory loss begins to get concerning when it interferes with daily functioning. This could mean:

- An inability to perform ADLs (activities of daily living), like not being able to prepare a meal for oneself
- Suddenly struggling with directions and getting lost on familiar routes
- Lack of insight into the fact that there may be a problem
- General errors in judgment in a previously judicious person

There are hundreds of examples, but the result is the same in each of them: the ability to function day-to-day is being impacted.

If you have concerns about memory loss in yourself or a loved one, the first step is to involve a primary care doctor, who may refer you to a neurologist or a neuropsychologist for formal testing. Get an appointment on the books as soon as you’re noticing a shift in behavior.

When you notice a decline in cognition, detail exactly what you’re seeing so that you can discuss it with your physician.Get specific about when you started to notice it, what you’re seeing, and how it’s impacting daily life. You should also take note of any new medications that have been started or other life changes that have occurred recently.

In your notes, pay close attention to tempo and the timeline in which memory loss is unfolding. Memory loss that occurs suddenly is almost always something other than dementia, which has a slow progressive course (often over years).

Hopefully, you can work with your physician to get a prompt diagnosis. As that’s happening, make sure your environment is set up to prevent major risks. In the house, pay close attention to the stove and any potential fall risks (slippery floors, stairs). Driving access and ability and finances are two other essential areas to manage closely during this time.

Make sure that all legal documentation is in order, particularly documentation around your health care proxy and power of attorney. Your health care proxy is the person you entrust to make healthcare decisions for you should you be unable to do so. A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person you appoint to act in your place for financial purposes if and when you ever become incapacitated. While your healthcare proxy will make medical decisions, your power of attorney will make financial decisions.

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