Simple forgetfulness or something more?
We all have some amount of memory loss as we age. But if it seems worse than expected, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out any serious causes and get treatment.
There are many different causes of memory loss. Some causes are treatable. Getting diagnosed as early as possible will give you the best chance of getting effective treatment. It may also put your mind at ease.
Clinical research is growing our understanding of memory loss and how to treat it. Read on to learn more about memory loss, its causes, symptoms and how it is diagnosed and treated.
If you or a loved one are living with memory loss, join our research community.
- Please tell us about your experience living with memory loss in our brief online survey.
- At the end of the survey, you can sign up to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial.
- We also invite you to join our Alzheimer’s Team online patient community and connect with others about memory loss.
Thank you for sharing with us.
What are the early warning signs of memory loss?
The early stages of memory loss can be quite subtle. It’s possible that only you, a family member, or close friend notices any changes in your ability to remember details. This stage is called Mild Cognitive Impairment, and can include difficulties in many areas, such as:
- finding the right word during conversations
- remembering names of new acquaintances
- planning and organizing
- frequently losing personal possessions, including valuables
An early sign of memory problems may be depression. Memory problems may start small and worsen over time until they greatly affect our daily lives.
It is important to separate ‘normal’ memory loss associated with age and warning signs of dementia. Memory tests are used to identify these symptoms and other tests are used to rule out other potential conditions that could be causing similar symptoms.
What is dementia and what causes it?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe set of symptoms such as memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language. It can also include changes in mood, perception and behaviour. There are many different causes of dementia. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms may start small and worsen over time until they severely affect daily life.
Dementia is caused by damage to the brain due to diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, or strokes. Symptoms vary from one person to the next, and they depend upon where in the brain the damage happens and the type.
Dementia usually affects people over age 65. By managing risk factors, it may be possible to reduce the chances of developing it. In some cases, dementia can run in families.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It causes gradual symptoms such as memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Over time, it can affect a person’s ability to recognize loved ones or even perform simple tasks. At the end stages, it can lead to death.
It is believed that early detection – at the point of mild cognitive impairment – leads to a better outcome in terms of treatment and management.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s runs in families and can start to affect a person in their 30s or 40s.
Several studies have shown that an active lifestyle with proper diet and nutrition and other lifestyle factors – such as avoiding alcohol, smoking, etc. – can potentially help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (See ‘How can I prevent Alzheimer’s?’ section.)
How is memory loss and its causes diagnosed?
There are many different tests in development to help diagnose memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia in the early stages.
- One memory test is called the MMSE – a short questionnaire given by a medical professional. Other tests can be used to evaluate the effect of memory loss on activities of daily living or quality of life.
- Blood tests and spinal fluid tests can identify the buildup of certain proteins known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, such as beta-amyloid and tau. It is now known that these proteins start accumulating 20 years or more before symptoms develop. Importantly, therefore, new avenues of treatment are being explored that target Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia in the early stages, potentially even before symptoms exist.
- Brain scans are used to detect brain changes due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Genetic testing is used to determine if a person has inherited a genetic trait that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is a new area of interest in clinical trials that are exploring the possibility of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people before symptoms develop.
How can I prevent Alzheimer’s?
Researchers still do not know why some people develop Alzheimer’s and others don’t. However, several lifestyle changes have been found to be risk factors for Alzheimer’s. In general, the rule of thumb is that what’s good for the heart is good for the head.
Here are some of the latest findings from research into this topic:
Lifelong learning and cognitive brain-training brings about changes in our brains that can help slow down cognitive decline. However, the effects on dementia are still unknown. Here are some suggestions to try:
- Puzzles (crossword, Sudoku) and brain-teasers
- Learning to play a musical instrument or singing
- Learning a new language
- Board games and card games (chess, checkers, bridge, pinochle, Uno, Speed)
- Memory games
- Read a book
- Hobbies such as painting or other artwork, knitting, photography
- Learn a new skill
- Stay socially active: for example, take a class, visit friends, go to a place of worship, or volunteer
This is just a short list of possible ideas; the possibilities are endless. For more ideas, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website or Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Here are several recommended tips for heart-health that also translate to brain-health:
- Healthy diet: This includes eating foods that are low in saturated fat, not too much salt, sugar or red meat, and includes plenty of fish, starchy foods, and fruit and vegetables. (See the DASH Mediterranean diet for recipes and further information.)
- Get regular exercise. Examples include cycling, swimming, brisk walking. The recommended amount is 30-40 minutes/day for most days of the week.
- Avoid smoking
- Moderate alcohol (if at all)
How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?
Today’s treatments focus on various ways to address the symptoms of memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It is hoped that one day a treatment that stops the progression of the underlying causes may be developed.
Clinical trials are looking at solving today’s problems for a better tomorrow. Sign up for updates on future clinical research studies for you or a loved one.
Clinical trials are helping medical researchers better understand memory loss, its causes and how to treat it. Finding these answers depends on people like you to take part.
Have you considered taking part in a clinical trial for people with memory loss?
Potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial include:
- Close care and monitoring by a study doctor and staff throughout the study
- No cost for study treatment, related tests and procedures
- Contribute to our understanding of the treatment options for memory loss
If you would like to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial in memory loss, take our survey.
If you are living with memory loss, we would like to hear from you.
Please take some time to answer a few questions and be considered for an upcoming clinical trial for people with memory problems. We also invite you to join our patient community.
Thank you for sharing with us. If you would like to be notified about an upcoming clinical trial in memory loss, you may sign up at the end of our survey.