Memory loss concerns: When to see a doctor and how to talk about it

It is normal for our brain to change as we age. These changes often result in memory loss. However, memory loss can also be a sign of a medical condition, like dementia.

To help identify signs of normal aging and signs that you should see a doctor, use the table below provided by the Texas Department of Health Services.

What are signs of normal aging?

  • Forgets names momentarily
  • Makes an occasional error in their checkbook
  • Forgets appointments or events, remembers later
  • Occasionally needs help with the microwave
  • Momentarily confused about the day of the week
  • Vision changes due to cataracts
  • Struggles finding the right word, but remembers later
  • Sometimes misplaces things such as glasses
  • Sometimes makes bad purchasing decisions
  • Weary of work, family, social obligations
  • Irritable when a routine is disrupted
  • Forgets conversations
  • Thinks things through slowly
  • Forgets why they went into a room, but then remembers
  • Able to recall an incidence of forgetfulness
  • Worries about memory, but no one else does

What are signs it may be dementia?

  • Forgets their child’s name
  • Has trouble with familiar recipes or monthly bills
  • Forgets important dates or events
  • Has trouble driving to familiar locations
  • Loses track of dates, seasons and passage of time
  • Has difficulty with reading, judging distance, or colors
  • Calls familiar things by the wrong name
  • Puts things in unusual places, such as keys in the fridge
  • Shows exceptionally poor judgment with money
  • Withdraws from hobbies, social events or sports
  • Shows extreme anxiety or anger with change of routine
  • Asks for the same information over and over
  • Has trouble following or joining a conversation
  • Doesn’t recognize familiar places
  • Doesn’t remember incidence of memory loss
  • Relatives worry about memory loss

Download a list of these symptoms in English and Spanish.

How to talk to a loved one about their memory loss

Experiencing memory loss can bring a range of emotions for the person experiencing memory loss and their loved ones. Below are a few tips from the Texas Department of State Health Services on how to talk to someone about their memory loss.

Plan a time and place: Choose a time to have the conversation when you and your loved one aren’t busy or tired. If you include others in the conversation, keep the group small. Pick a place that is familiar, comfortable, quiet and free of distractions.

Find the words: Think about what you’re going to say in advance to make the conversation easier. It’s helpful to begin by asking your loved one if they’ve noticed any differences in their behavior or memory. They might be defensive or embarrassed, so tell them you’re concerned and give a few examples of what you have noticed.

Talk and listen with compassion: Keep your words simple, gentle and reassuring. And be patient. Listen when your loved one expresses their own worry about memory loss or their difficulty in doing usual activities. They might be relieved to know that you are willing to discuss it with them.

Encourage them to see a doctor: Explain that a doctor will talk with them about their concerns and begin looking for what is causing the symptoms. To provide support, offer to go to the doctor with them. Take notes about your concerns and the changes you’ve noticed to share with the doctor.

This page uses information sourced by the Alzheimer’s Disease Program at the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Program at the Texas Department of State Health Services works to increase awareness of the disease and provide helpful information to individuals, families, friends and caregivers. Visit the program’s website to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, ways to start a conversation, and available community resources.

Experiencing memory loss?

Call to schedule a memory screening appointment.

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