Posted by Su Lee

Amidst our busy schedules, we forget things which are part of our daily routine—misplace car keys or forget someone’s name. While some memory loss can be tied to aging, it is important to be able to differentiate between age-related memory problems and more serious mental health concerns like cognitive impairment or dementia. Thomas Horowitz, CHA HPMC MD, explains memory loss and warning signs to look out for.

Memory Loss
We all can be preoccupied and forget a number or a place we left an item. But when you have a habit of placing something someplace and you forget THAT place, we should be suspicious of this disease. We may forget a password or phone number, but when it was just used an hour ago and it is forgotten, we might have a problem. I evaluate the patient’s memory and the process they use to try to recall the forgotten item.

Emotional Response/Fearfulness Related to Memory Loss
If a patient remembers where they usually keep an item or a place they leave a reminder, I am less concerned than if they have a purely exaggerated emotional response. The emotional response and fearfulness can be the giveaway. An inappropriate emotional response to memory loss may warrant a closer look at the patient.

Loss of Cognitive Skills
In normal aging, we can “back track” when forgetting things, whether it’s retracing steps, trying a memory jog or calling someone that can help us. Loss of these cognitive skills can be a warning sign. These more advanced symptoms might include forgetting where we are in-spite of visual cues that we should recognize or not being able to use logic to back track or think of who to call. If this happens, a neurological exam is indicated.

When Memory Loss Becomes Dangerous
Another warning sign is when memory loss is potentially endangering the patient or others. Some examples of this might be forgetting to turn off the stove or oven, or leaving the car running in the garage. If you hear the phone ring as you walk in the front door and run to get it, forgetting to lock the front door, you are preoccupied. However, if you leave the car running, leave the groceries in the car, and leave the front door open, there may be a problem.

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