Ask the Expert: Memory Loss in Seniors

Lynn Northrop, PhD, a clinical psychologist affiliated with Sharp HealthCare, answers commonly asked questions about memory loss.

Do older adults forget things more than younger adults?
All human beings make memory errors. And that's true whether you're 18 or 80. There is some research to suggest that older adults may forget things slightly more often than younger people, maybe forgetting somebody's name or forgetting where they left their keys. Forgetting a little something from time to time shouldn't be a cause for concern for anyone. 

Is there a difference between dementia and Alzheimer's?
People often confuse the words dementia and Alzheimer's. Dementia is a general term. It describes a class of disorders, all of which involve changes in cognitive function, so problems with memory, concentration, what we call "executive functioning," which means making big decisions and organizing your life.

Alzheimer's is a particular kind of dementia that involves the build-up of what we call "plaques and tangles" in the brain and these deposits in the brain are the primary aspect of Alzheimer's that causes the problems with the memory and attention etc. 

What are some symptoms of Alzheimer's?
Normal memory loss or memory errors does not interfere with somebody living their full life. Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are much more serious. The signs are very different. Somebody who has Alzheimer's might ask the same question over and over again, or tell you a lengthy story and then a few minutes later they might tell you the same lengthy story. They might mix words up, for example they might refer to the bed as the table. You might also see personality changes in people with Alzheimer's. You might see people becoming much more fearful when they were never a fearful person in the past or becoming aggressive when they were never aggressive in the past. 

What should I do if i know someone who may have Alzheimer's?
If you have a loved one who you think may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's or any sort of a significant cognitive impairment, you absolutely want to get them to a professional for an evaluation and it's probably best to start with your primary care provider. 

Taking care of someone with Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia is not something that you want to do by yourself. You want to access help. And the good news is there is lots of help available now.

If you want more information about memory and aging or if you're concerned about your own memory or the memory a senior in your life, then it's time to ask for help and you can do that by calling 1-800-82-SHARP. They can direct you to education, and assessment and intervention resources within Sharp HealthCare.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.