- Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Age-Related Changes in Memory
- Memory Loss Related to Medical Conditions
- Memory Loss Related to Emotional Problems
- For More Information About Memory Loss
- Other Forms of Dementia
- Medication Side Effects
- Mild Cognitive Impairment
- 5 Surprising Causes of Memory Loss
- 1. Sleep Apnea
- 2. Silent Stroke
- 3. Medications
- 4. Nutritional Deficiency
- 5. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
- Less Common Causes of Memory Loss
- Memory Problems: What is Normal Aging and What is Not
- Memory complaints in young adults linked to poor health and lifestyle factors
- Just one risk factor significantly increases frequency of memory complaints
Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer’s Disease?
Many people worry about becoming forgetful. They think forgetfulness is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But not all people with memory problems have Alzheimer’s.
Share this infographic and help spread the word about what memory problems are normal and not.
Other causes for memory problems can include aging, medical conditions, emotional problems, mild cognitive impairment, or another type of dementia.
Age-Related Changes in Memory
Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people may notice that it takes longer to learn new things, they don’t remember information as well as they did, or they lose things like their glasses. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems, like Alzheimer’s disease.
|Normal Aging||Alzheimer’s Disease|
|Making a bad decision once in a while||Making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time|
|Missing a monthly payment||Problems taking care of monthly bills|
|Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later||Losing track of the date or time of year|
|Sometimes forgetting which word to use||Trouble having a conversation|
|Losing things from time to time||Misplacing things often and being unable to find them|
Memory Loss Related to Medical Conditions
Certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems. These problems should go away once a person gets treatment. Medical conditions that may cause memory problems include:
- Tumors, blood clots, or infections in the brain
- Some thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Head injury, such as a concussion from a fall or accident
- Medication side effects
- Not eating enough healthy foods, or too few vitamins and minerals in a person’s body (like vitamin B12)
A doctor should treat serious medical conditions like these as soon as possible.
Memory Loss Related to Emotional Problems
Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia. For instance, someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend may feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored. Trying to deal with these life changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful.
The confusion and forgetfulness caused by emotions usually are temporary and go away when the feelings fade. Emotional problems can be eased by supportive friends and family, but if these feelings last for more than 2 weeks, it is important to get help from a doctor or counselor. Treatment may include counseling, medication, or both. Being active and learning new skills can also help a person feel better and improve his or her memory.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease from MedlinePlus.
Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.
For More Information About Memory Loss
National Institute of Mental Health
This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
Content reviewed: January 24, 2018
Depression is a serious issue with seniors; it can exist at any age and isn’t confined to any specific age group. Depression in seniors can be fueled by many factors, and they include:
- The loss of a spouse or friends
- Disassociation with the community/isolation
- Pain from physical issues
- Need for dependency when not accustomed to it
WebMD reports that only 10 percent of seniors who show symptoms of depression actually get treated for it. Depression can have severe effects on elders’ health, too, being a leading factor for heart disease, and it’s often associated with seniors who have diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, and brain disease. It’s also affects elders’ memory.
“One of the ways that depression affects memory is by skewing the types of memories people tend to recall while in the grip of melancholy,” Memory Loss Online reported. For example, while grieving from the loss of a loved one, you may forget simple things such as an appointment because you’re instead focusing on the negative and sad memories.
Depression also impairs your ability to create long-term memories. “It really comes down to a lack of attention and concentration,” Constantine Lyketsos, MD, director of neuropsychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine told MLO.
There are ways to get help, though, and it’s never too late for therapeutic solutions. “Depression is treatable in 65 to 75 percent of elderly patients,” the American Academy of Family Physicians noted. How to help an older person varies per person, but AAFP recommends a blend of “medication and psychotherapy” with the guidance of a licensed professional. It’s been found, though, that medication that helps treat depression can sometimes cause problems with memory (discussed later).
Other Forms of Dementia
While Alzheimer’s may be the most common form of dementia, it is not the only form of dementia that contributes to memory loss and cognitive abilities.
Parkinson’s disease is one of the more common forms of dementia (after Alzheimer’s). The disease affects about one million people every year. It primarily leads to the loss of motor functions, as the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation pointed out, and they include:
- Tremors: Unintentional movements of muscles
- Unstable posture: Coordination and posture are impaired
- Slowness of movement: The symptom is called “bradykinesia” and causes someone with Parkinson’s to take much longer to complete simple physical tasks
- Stiffness: Affects the fluidity of muscles in the body
Parkinson’s disease can cause cognitive impairments, too. “The same brain changes that lead to motor symptoms can also result in slowness in memory and thinking,” PDF says. These impairments are mild, but they affect the ability to remember simple actions and words that were once easy to recall and complete.
Huntington’s disease is a fatal disorder that is typically inherited, and it affects elders’ motor and cognitive functions. An average of three to seven in every 100,000 Americans have the disease. The Huntington’s Disease Society of America reported that about 30,000 Americans are symptomatic right now.
“Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 30 to 50, and worsen over a 10- to 25-year period,” the society said, noting that the disease can cause “forgetfulness and impaired judgment.” It’s also difficult for people with Huntington’s disease to retain or recall information from the past. Many of these memory loss impairments are fueled by depression associated with the disease.
Dementia with Lewy bodies
Dementia with Lewy bodies is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. It occurs when excessive amounts of proteins—known as Lewy bodies—develop on parts of the brain that affect motor skills and cognitive thinking. The disease is often associated with Parkinson’s disease, because Lewy bodies often develop on brains of those with Parkinson’s.
Memory loss often occurs later on in the process with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) as opposed to it being a primary symptom for the disease, like it is with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association noted. “Advanced DLB may cause memory problems in addition to its more typical effects on judgment, planning and visual perception,” meaning DLB also causes hallucinations, which can the ability for elders to differentiate between what actually happened in the past.
Vascular dementia is caused by strokes. It is one of the most common forms of dementia in people over the age of 65, MedlinePlus reported. The loss of blood flow to the brain caused by strokes kills brain cells, which is directly associated with memory loss.
It often co-exists along other types of cognitive-impairing dementias that affect elders’ short-term and long-term memory loss. “Problems with short-term memory typically show up first,” MLO noted. “ut over time, the memory lapses become more severe, and the dementia begins to take a debilitating toll on thinking, judgment, communication, and emotional stability.”
Medication Side Effects
Elders in America is one of the most heavily medicated groups of people in the world. Despite people aged 65 years or older only making up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than one-third of outpatient spending on prescription medications, according to DrugAbuse.gov.
In 2013 alone, the Center for Disease Control found that 2.8 billion drugs were “ordered or provided” by health professionals, and based on the aforementioned report, that means about 920 million of those drugs were intended for seniors. noted that “the average elderly patient is taking more than five prescription medications” and “the average nursing home patient is taking seven medications” at any given time.
This points out exactly how often seniors are using drugs, many of which have memory loss as a side effect. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) pointed out a bevy of general prescription drugs that can potentially cause memory loss. Some of those include medications for:
- Reducing cholesterol: While reducing cholesterol has been proven to help the heart and body, the drugs prescribed to do that (they’re called statins) can also deplete the brain of cholesterol. The brain uses cholesterol as the “formation of connections between nerve cells — the links underlying memory and learning.” Some of these medications include Pravachol, Lipator, and Lescol.
- Pain: Painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin affect pain receptors in the brain, causing pain levels to alleviate and the emotional response to pain to qualm. These types of drugs are called opiates and give the brain a sense of pleasure due to the alleviated pain, which causes the brain to produce less of its own dopamine—the chemical that controls pleasure. If there is an overload of dopamine due to use of these drugs, there can be instances of mild amnesia and even short-term blacking out. The longer drugs like this are used, the more it can affect short-term memory.
- Anxiety: Anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) have been linked to memory loss because they weaken the brain’s ability to move short-term memories into long-term memory.
- Depression: This is a common issue with elders, especially those who who become isolated as they age and encounter more medical issues. The medication used to treat it, though, often affects memory as well. “TCAs (Tricyclic antidepressants) are thought to cause memory problems by blocking the action of serotonin and norepinephrine — two of the brain’s key chemical messengers,” the AARP said.
Many of these medications are necessary, though, and help with the overall betterment of seniors as they age. Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, a professor of medicine at the University of Montreal, said that “despite the known risks, it may be better for some patients to continue their medication instead of having to live with intolerable symptoms.”
Mild Cognitive Impairment
What Facts Should I Know about Possible Early Dementia?
What is the medical definition of dementia?
Dementia is a serious brain disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.
- The key feature of dementia is a decline in cognitive functions. These are mental processes such as thinking, reasoning, learning, problem solving, memory, language, and speech.
- Other features that occur frequently in dementia include changes in personality and behavior.
- Generally, these symptoms are not considered dementia unless they have continued unabated for at least 6 months.
- Dementia has many different causes. Some may be reversible, such as certain infections, drug intoxication, and liver diseases. Of the irreversible causes, the most common in older adults is Alzheimer’s disease.
- Although dementia is frequently linked to old age (“getting senile”), it is not a normal part of aging. Even children with certain degenerative brain disorders can develop dementia.
What are the very first signs of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with mild, slowly worsening memory loss. Many older people fear that they have Alzheimer’s disease because they can’t find their eyeglasses or remember someone’s name.
- These very common problems are most often due to slowing of mental processes with age. It is not clear whether this is a normal part of aging.
- While this is a nuisance, it does not significantly impair a person’s ability to learn new information, solve problems, or carry out everyday activities, as Alzheimer’s disease does.
- Medical professionals call this benign senescent forgetfulness, age-related memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
What are the stages of dementia?
Memory loss follows a specific pattern in Alzheimer’s disease. The losses are mainly in short-term memory. This means that the person has problems remembering recent events.
- The person cannot remember what he did last week or instructions the doctor gave this morning for taking a new medicine.
- This often contrasts sharply with the person’s strong ability to remember minor details and events from many years ago.
- The memory loss is followed by many other cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Eventually, over many years, the person loses many mental and physical abilities and requires around-the-clock care.
What is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?
MCI is a transitional zone between age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. A person is often said to have MCI when he or she has Alzheimer’s-like memory loss while the mind remains “sharp” otherwise.
- The person with MCI is able to think clearly, solve problems, learn new information, and communicate despite relatively minor memory loss.
- Memory loss in MCI is more severe than purely age-related memory loss.
There are other types of MCI, but the type involving short-term memory loss is the most common. Medical professionals call this type “amnestic” MCI. Amnestic has the same root as the word amnesia, meaning memory loss.
We are still learning about MCI. We don’t know how common it is, for example.
- About 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t know how many have MCI.
- Part of the problem is that the boundaries between age-related memory loss, MCI, and Alzheimer’s disease have not been clearly defined.
What is the difference between mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s?
From studies in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease or amnestic MCI, we know that the changes are similar. Therefore, amnestic MCI is generally considered to be due to an early form of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Not everyone with MCI develops full dementia. However, people with MCI are more likely than other elderly people to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
- At the moment, we do not know what factors contribute to progression from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease.
5 Surprising Causes of Memory Loss
You can’t find your keys or you forget an appointment. For many people in middle age or older, simple acts of forgetfulness like these are scary because they raise the specter of Alzheimer’s disease.
But Alzheimer’s is not the only health issue that can lead to forgetfulness, which is often treatable if you know the cause, according to the National Institute on Aging. Memory loss can happen at any age and for a number of reasons.
“Patients might experience memory loss and describe their symptoms similarly, but a doctor can tease apart what parts of the brain are affected,” says Seth Gale, MD, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
He points out things like polypharmacy (taking several medications), significant depression, and poor sleep that can lead to memory complaints. “When you drill down and find out what is actually happening with brain function, you can reassure someone. They have the capacity to learn and store information but because of their overloaded mental resources, they are having trouble,” says Dr. Gale.
Talk with your doctor about concerns you may have about your memory, so the condition responsible for your symptoms can be addressed. Discussing your symptoms and taking various tests, possibly including an MRI, may help your doctor determine what is affecting your memory, Gale says. In some cases, one or more of the following issues could play a role.
1. Sleep Apnea
This common but treatable sleep disorder causes breathing to stop briefly and frequently throughout the night. It is linked to memory loss and dementia, according to Constantine Lyketsos, MD, director of the Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine and professor and chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview. You might have sleep apnea if you wake up with a headache and have daytime fatigue — or if your partner complains of loud snoring.
When not treated, sleep apnea affects spatial navigational memory, found a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. This type of memory includes being able to remember directions or where you put things like your keys. The research suggests that deep sleep, also known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, plays an important role in memory.
One explanation is that for people with sleep apnea, oxygen delivery to the brain is interrupted several hundred times during the night, explains Dr. Lyketsos. “The brain is stressed, so people wake up,” he says. The injury sleep apnea causes can show up as a variety of memory loss symptoms, he adds.
2. Silent Stroke
Obvious changes in the ability to think and move normally can come from strokes that block major brain blood vessels, Gale says. Mild memory problems can also develop gradually after silent strokes that affect smaller blood vessels. These changes in brain function, which can range from mild to severe, are called vascular cognitive impairment.
The brain is especially vulnerable to blocked or reduced blood flow depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. People with memory loss are at greater risk for stroke. And forgetfulness may be an early warning sign of stroke, found a study published in the journal Stroke.
Memory loss could be a sign that your medication needs to be adjusted. Several types of drugs can affect memory, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:
- sleeping pills
- anti-anxiety medications
- certain painkillers
- cholesterol-lowering medication
- diabetes medication
The FDA also cautions that cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins could slightly increase the risk for reversible cognitive side effects. These include memory loss and confusion.
A commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, has also been associated with memory problems. A study published in Diabetes Care found that people with diabetes who took the drug had worse cognitive performance than those who did not take it.
4. Nutritional Deficiency
A lack of sufficient B12, one of the B vitamins essential for normal nerve function, can lead to confusion and even dementia. Each day, you should get about 2.4 micrograms of B12 in your diet from natural sources like dairy products, meat, and fish, or from foods fortified with vitamin B12 — like fortified cereals.
Try our free online tool to plan healthy meals that will give you the vitamins you need.
RELATED: How to Navigate the Heart-Mind Connection
5. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Significant stress or anxiety can lead to problems with attention and memory, cautions Lyketsos. This is particularly common among people who may be juggling home and work responsibilities and are not sleeping well. Usually, easing stress can improve memory, Lyketsos says.
Untreated chronic stress can lead to depression, which could also affect brain function, according to research published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences. A mood disorder may improve with medication and counseling, notes the National Institute on Aging.
Less Common Causes of Memory Loss
Other conditions that can lead to problems with memory include:
- Infection: Memory loss may be attributed to severe infection around the brain, including neurosyphilis, Gale says.
- Head injury: Symptoms of a mild brain injury may include confusion and trouble with memory and concentration, according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
- Tumors: Memory and the ability to process information may be affected by brain tumors, the American Brain Tumor Association says. In addition, treatments for a tumor can affect your memory, including brain surgery, chemo, or radiation therapy.
- Alcoholism, Substance Abuse: Both alcoholism and drug abuse can affect memory, says Lyketsos. A study published in Neurology found that men who drank heavily showed signs of mental decline one to six years earlier than light drinkers.
There is no cure for dementia. People who have dementia should learn how to manage symptoms. Dementia is hard for the people who have it, as well as the people who love them. It’s important for family to learn about the condition and help their loved one. This may include visiting more, helping out, hiring medical care, or switching residences.
People who have dementia may become agitated for various reasons. Examples are frustrating or stressful situations, or a sudden change in surroundings. Simple things such as getting dressed or not remembering can lead to frustration. It’s possible that a person who is irritable may try to hurt themselves or others. Try to avoid things or places in which your loved one might become frustrated. Try to make your loved one’s tasks less difficult. You also can try to limit the number of difficult situations your loved one must face. For example, if taking a daily bath or shower causes problems, have him or he take one every other day. Or schedule difficult tasks for a time of day when your loved one tends to be less agitated. It’s helpful to give frequent reassurance and avoid challenging them.
Some people who have dementia may have hallucinations. These can be scary or upsetting. Try to distract the person by involving them in a pleasant activity. It’s best not to argue or fight with them when they’re hallucinating. You don’t want to agitate them more.
If your loved one is having trouble sleeping, try the following:
- Make the person aware of what time of day it is. Place clocks where he or she can easily see them.
- Keep curtains or blinds open so he or she can tell if it’s daytime or nighttime.
- Limit the amount of caffeine he or she consumes.
- Try to help them get exercise every day.
- Don’t let them take too many naps during the day.
- Make their bedroom peaceful. It’s easier to sleep in a quiet room.
- At night, provide a nightlight or leave a dim light on. Total darkness can add to confusion.
- Ask the doctor about medicine to treat pain, such as for arthritis. Some conditions can interrupt a person’s sleep.
If your loved one is prone to wandering, try these solutions:
- Allow him or her to wander in a safe place, such as a fenced yard.
- Tell him or her not to leave the house by themselves. You can put a large stop sign on the door as a reminder.
- Install an alarm system that will sound when the door opens. You can set it so you’re alerted when this happens.
- Place special locks on the doors. Don’t use this method if your loved one is left home alone.
- Get a medical bracelet for him or her to wear. Include their name, address, medical conditions, and your phone number.
- Check in with him or her frequently by telephone and/or in person.
Memory Problems: What is Normal Aging and What is Not
Memory and aging
Memory is defined as “the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Our ability to remember and to recall our past is what links us to our families, our friends and our community.
As we age, subtle changes in memory occur naturally as part of the aging process. However, sometimes these changes occur sooner than anticipated or faster than expected. These changes often go unnoticed, but at other times can be disturbing to ourselves or others. There are a number of things that can cause problems with memory or make normal age-related changes worse. For example, sometimes changes in memory might be due to a medication side effect or an existing or developing health problem, such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, heart disease, infections in the brain, brain tumor, blood clots, head injury, thyroid disease, dehydration, or vitamin deficiency. If this is the case, identifying and treating the condition can improve your memory.
However, when memory loss prevents us from performing daily tasks and our accustomed roles in life, it becomes a health concern that needs further evaluation by healthcare professionals.
What memory problems are an expected part of normal aging?
Simple forgetfulness (the “missing keys”) and delay or slowing in recalling names, dates, and events can be part of the normal process of aging. There are multiple memory processes, including learning new information, recalling information, and recognizing familiar information. Each of these processes can get disrupted, leading to the experience of forgetting. There are also different types of memory, each of which can be affected differently by normal aging as shown below.
Preserved memory functions
- Remote memory (ability to remember events from years ago)
- Procedural memory (performing tasks)
- Semantic recall (general knowledge)
Declining memory functions
- Learning new information
- Recalling new information (takes longer to learn something new and to recall it)
What other cognitive changes occur with normal aging?
- Language is modestly affected by normal aging. Language is the “words, their pronunciation, and the ways they are used in combination to be understood.”
- Language comprehension (understanding the rules of language) is typically preserved, as are vocabulary (semantic memory) and syntax (the way in which words are put together).
- Trouble remembering names and finding words in conversations (“tip of the tongue”) are very common and verbal fluency (takes longer to “get the words out”) can also be affected
- While verbal intelligence (vocabulary) remains unchanged with aging, the speed of information processing gradually slows (such as problem-solving skills).
- Executive functions (planning, abstract thinking) remain normal for everyday tasks, but are slowed when faced with new tasks or divided attention (“multi-tasking”).
- A slowing of the speed of cognitive processing and reaction time (“hitting the buzzer”) occur with aging.
What memory problems are not considered a part of normal aging?
Memory problems that begins to interfere with normal daily life and activities are not considered normal aging. Forgetting where you put your glasses is a simple sign of forgetfulness, disorganization, or normal aging; however, forgetting what your glasses are used for or that they are worn on your face is not a normal memory problem.
The memory loss and thinking problems seen in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia are not normal aging. Researchers now believe that mild cognitive impairment is a point along the pathway to dementia for some individuals and the stage between the mental changes that are seen in normal aging and early-stage dementia. Not all individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia. The following highlights some of the abnormal changes in memory that are seen in MCI and dementia.
Memory problems in people with mild cognitive impairment
- Forgets recent events, repeats the same questions and the same stories, sometimes forgets the names of close friends and family members, frequently forgets appointments or planned events, forgets conversations, misplaces items often.
- Has trouble coming up with the desired words. Has difficulty understanding written or verbal (spoken to) information.
- Loses focus. Is easily distracted. Needs to write reminders to do things or else will forget.
- May struggle, but can complete complex tasks such as paying bills, taking medications, shopping, cooking, household cleaning, driving.
- Has many important memory impairments but can still function independently.
Memory problems in people with dementia
Has many of the same symptoms of MCI plus as dementia progresses:
- Is unable to perform complex daily tasks (for example, paying bills, taking medications, shopping, driving).
- Loses insight or awareness of memory loss.
- Displays poor judgment.
- Declines in rational thinking and ability to problem solve.
- Memory, language, and cognition become so impaired that self-care tasks can no longer be performed without assistance from another person.
Can memory be preserved during the aging process?
According to the American Academy of Neurology’s practice guideline for patients with mild cognitive impairment, the best thing you can do to maintain your brain health is to exercise (particularly aerobic exercise) twice a week.
Although there is no clear-cut proven link that doing any of the following will help slow memory and thinking skill decline, these are general recommendations for maintaining good health.
- Maintain good blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels.
- Stop smoking and avoid excess drinking.
- Eat a healthy diet — one high in antioxidants and olive oil — lowers the risk of dementia. Consider the Mediterranean or Dash diets.
- Maintain appropriate weight,
- Stay positive, find happiness, be grateful.
- Reduce stress.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep.
- Exercise your body (include aerobic exercises , strength training, stretching exercises, and balance training).
- Exercise your brain (do puzzles, quizzes, card games, read, learn a new language or play a new instrument, learn a new skill or hobby, take a class).
- Stay socially active (share hobbies with like-minded people, join clubs, volunteer).
Share Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email Get useful, helpful and relevant health + wellness information enews
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
If you feel or behave strangely when suddenly roused from slumber, you may have a disorder known in the medical world as confusional arousal—described far more vividly by its alternative name, “sleep drunkenness.”
According to a new study, as many as one in seven people might suffer from the disorder, which is characterized by confusion, amnesia, and even violent behavior during the moments of their waking up.
Researchers surveyed more than 19,000 U.S. adults about their sleeping habits, mental illness diagnoses, and medications they were on. They found that 15% of people had experienced sleep drunkenness in the past year—with more than half of them reporting that they had experienced an episode within the past week. The study was published in the journal Neurology.
Sleep drunkenness appeared to be highly correlated with existing conditions. Some 84% of people who reported episodes had another sleep disorder, a mental health disorder, or took psychotropic medication.
Maurice Ohayon, the lead author of the study and a sleep expert at Stanford University, said he was glad the study could shed light on the disorder. “These episodes of confused awakening have not gotten much attention, but given that they occur at a high rate in the general population, more research should be done on when they occur and whether they can be treated,” he said in a news release about the study. “People with sleep disorders or mental health issues should also be aware that they may be at greater risk of these episodes.”
If you’re a woman with ADHD, you may be more susceptible to the attention-deficit symptoms than the hyperactive ones. That means you may feel disorganized, absentminded, and forgetful, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to a 2018 report from the CDC, the number of privately insured U.S. women ages 15–44 years who filled a prescription for medication to treat ADHD rose 344 percent between 2003 and 2015. Specifically for women ages 25-29, it increased by 700 percent, and for women ages 30-34, the number jumped 560 percent. Of course, this data must be taken with a grain of salt; the report doesn’t say anything about new diagnoses, only privately insured U.S. women filling prescriptions. But it does at least show that there’s been increased activity surrounding ADHD in adult women in the last decade or so, which could be promising for women whose symptoms have gone unrecognized.
Maybe you’ve been this way your whole life and you’ve managed it fine, but now you’ve been promoted into a highly competitive position, or you’ve started medical school, and it’s become an issue. The good news is that help exists, often through medications like Adderall that contain stimulants to boost neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help your thinking and attention.
7. In very rare cases, it could be something more serious.
This section is all the way down here because, again, there are plenty of other reasons why you might experience memory issues. With that said, sometimes they are a sign of something bigger, like dementia, which is actually a group of memory and cognitive symptoms instead of a specific disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dementia happens when nerve cells in the brain become damaged. Types of dementia and causes of dementia-like symptoms include Alzheimer’s disease, a brain infection, a traumatic brain injury, and a brain tumor.
Dementia among young people is, as Knopman puts it, “exceedingly rare.” As an example, only a scant 5 percent of the approximately 4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s (that’s about 200,000 people) developed it before age 65, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The kind of memory loss that comes along with dementia is much different than having no recollection of a middle school anecdote your friend remembers perfectly. It’s more about not being able to remember recent events and conversations. “If somebody has brain disease , they actually will lose short-term memories before they lose long-term memories,” Knopman says. “There is no brain disease that affects only long-term—meaning years ago—memory.”
You may also want to schedule an appointment if you’re having trouble keeping track of the calendar date or repeating yourself in conversation over and over again. “The kind of memory loss that gets worrisome is not an isolated event,” Knopman says. “It’s persistent.”
Even then, dementia typically comes along with symptoms like difficulty completing complex tasks, problems with planning and organizing, lowered coordination and motor function, confusion, and disorientation. There are also psychological changes, like personality shifts, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations, among others.
“If this is something that’s interfering with your day-to-day life, you’re finding that you’re not performing well…that’s definitely a time to look into it,” Price says. “If you’re finding that your memory difficulties are interfering with your mood or you’re more depressed or anxious, you definitely want to seek medical help.” Chances are it’s not as serious as dementia, but the point is that you may be able to get help for those kinds of mental obstacles, no matter the cause.
- What Women of Color Need to Know About Lupus
- What You Need to Know About Autonomic Nervous System Disorders
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Excruciatingly Painful Cluster Headaches
By Majid Fotuhi
WebMD Live Events Transcript
Memory loss is a frightening occurrence for anyone who finds the records of their lives fading away, whether it’s minor forgetfulness or the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. We had a memorable discussion about preventing and treating memory loss with Majid Fotuhi, MD.
The opinions expressed herein are the guest’s alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Fotuhi. Is memory loss an inevitable part of aging?
Fotuhi: No. People may have slower rate of learning and memorizing things, but they should not lose their memory. Some degree of forgetfulness is normal with aging, but people should maintain the ability to function in their jobs and remember names of their spouses, children, friends, and so on. The only thing they should not forget is the names of their close relatives and their friends. That would be abnormal.
Moderator: How can one determine what is causing short-term memory loss?
Fotuhi: The most common cause of memory loss is stress and anxiety. The second most common cause is depression. The third most common cause is medical issues. Only the 10th or 11th on the list would be Alzheimer’s disease. Ninety percent of older adults who complain about memory loss do not have Alzheimer’s disease. Most of them have depression, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and lack of sufficient amount of sleep or medical issues.
Member question: What, if any, is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Fotuhi: That is a very good question. Dementia means memory loss plus deficit in one or more area of cognition, such as getting lost, confusion of time, or inability to do the usual hobbies a person may have. There are many causes for dementia, such as high blood pressure causing vascular dementia. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. So Alzheimer’s is one of several different types of dementia.
Moderator: So what would be the first step a person should take if they feel they are losing their memory?
Fotuhi: The first thing they should do is to check the things I mentioned, such as stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, and most importantly, depression. They should discuss their memory loss with their physician. Most doctors can determine whether a person’s memory loss is due to medical issues or if it is due to dementia. So check your causes of memory loss and talk with your doctor.
Member question: Dr. Fotuhi, my mother suffered a stroke at age 69 and since has developed vascular dementia. Having had a stroke myself at age 50 am I at a higher risk to develop vascular dementia?
Fotuhi: Yes. People who have vascular risk factors are at a higher risk or developing dementia. Having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high homocysteine all contribute to developing heart attacks, a stroke, and vascular dementia. Fortunately, all these risk factors are treatable and they should be treated aggressively. Once they are treated, a person is no longer at risk for developing dementia, especially if they start in their midlife.
Member question: I am a 52-year-old woman. How can I tell if the memory problems that I have been experiencing over the last year or so are some form of Alzheimer’s or not? My grown children talk about events from their childhood that I just don’t recognize. I also forget things as soon as I hear them and I lose words –I know what I want to say, but cannot remember the words. At times, familiar places become foreign to me and I can get lost or disoriented walking or driving.
Fotuhi: That is actually worrisome for dementia. However, the cause of dementia may be depression, which can be treated with medications, so I strongly recommend that you discuss this issue with your doctor.
Member question: I am 48 years old. I remember faces of students taught but not their names. Sometimes I scan my memory to remember something that has just happened but everything is blank. I call someone to pass on a message; by the time the person turns around (a matter of seconds) I have already forgotten the message to be passed. I had a surgical hysterectomy three years ago. Could it be the cause of memory loss? I tend to preserve the long-term memory but the short term one — it’s almost chaotic.
Fotuhi: Hysterectomy does not cause memory loss. The kinds of memory lapses you describe are very common. In other words, you may lose memory temporarily but you can retrieve that memory later. The kind of memory loss that would be concerning would be the type that the person would completely forget all the information. For example, it would be OK to forget the name of a movie you saw last weekend. However, it will not be OK for you to forget that you saw a movie at all
Again, there are many causes for short-term memory loss; the most common causes being stressful lifestyle, lack of sleep, anxiety, and depression. The chance that you have Alzheimer’s disease in your 40s and 50s is extremely low. My advice to you is “forget about Alzheimer’s.”
Moderator: What is the usual age range for the onset of Alzheimer’s?
Fotuhi: Alzheimer’s disease is not as common as people think it is. Only one in 100 of those in their 60s develop this disease. Among those in their 70s, only two or three out of 100 develop Alzheimer’s. The numbers are much higher only for those in their 80s and 90s.
Member question: I have memory loss due to an accident where I fell and hit my head. Amnesia. Can it be reversible?
Fotuhi: Head trauma associated with coma is one of the many risk factors for memory loss that comes with aging. However, other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high homocysteine, lack of exercise, lack of education, and depression, are more likely to contribute to memory loss than a single head trauma. If you did have a serious head trauma, you should focus on reversing your other risk factors, since you cannot reverse having had a head trauma.
You can also make sure that you prevent the chance of having a future head trauma for yourself and especially for your children by making sure that they wear their seat belts and wear protection for their head when they are involved in contact sports. It is very important to wear a helmet when you or your children are skateboarding, biking or especially of you’re on a motorcycle.
Member question: Can menopause cause memory loss?
Fotuhi: There are a lot of controversies regarding menopause and memory loss. I think if a woman is experiencing her menopause and also having problems with her memory, she should check her risk factors and make sure that she has taken care of all her reversible causes of memory loss. For example, low thyroid levels are common and will need treatment. Taking hormone replacement therapy is now shown not to be effective, and it is also associated with increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and breast and ovarian cancers. So the short answer is, check your reversible risk factors and try to maximize your memory ability by exercise and better diet.
Moderator: What is the role of exercise and diet in memory loss?
Fotuhi: Exercise improves memory in two ways:
- It improves your heart function. This means that your heart can pump the blood better and profuse your brain with a rich supply of blood.
- By direct increase of growth factors in the brain. Growth factors are proteins that naturally nourish the brain cells and help them repair small injury and remain in good health. By increasing the levels of these growth factors, exercise makes your brain a better working machine.
Member question: What are these growth factors?
Fotuhi: One of them is called BDNF, which stands for brain drive neurotrophic factor. Another growth factor is called nerve growth factor or NGF. Both these growth factors have been shown to increase with exercise and to improve memory.
Member question: I am 55 years old now, have three grown children. I was treated for clinical and postpartum depression in my 20s with medication and ECT — quite a bit of ECT — over a period of five years, but not constant for those five years. Umpteen professionals told me that I would only have short-term memory loss and that it would return. Well, they either lied, mislead me, or did not know what they were relaying to me because ECT erased 98% of my memories of my children’s childhood. Can you give me an honest answer as to why I lost my memories? Also, my memories of me growing up were erased. I live in the present and it is very upsetting to me that I cannot discuss my kids growing up with them. To say the least, I am angry and very sad.
Fotuhi: I appreciate how frustrating it must be to have a very poor memory. To the best of my knowledge, there is no formal study that has shown ECT to be associated with memory loss. I recommend that you discuss with your physician the other reversible causes for memory loss I mentioned earlier.
You may also need to have a brain MRI. Depression, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the main causes of memory loss. So the difficulties you have with your memory may still be due to depression. I think that you do need a full medical workup to identify the cause of your memory loss.
Member question: What vegetables/herbs do you recommend for helping progressive memory loss. Items that I can grow myself here in southern Texas. Assuming I can remember where I last left the shovel and hoe.
Fotuhi: I have a list of foods that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin in my book, The Memory Cure. I can give you a short list, and those include:
- And especially blueberries or other berries
I also recommend two or three servings of fish a week. Several studies have shown that people who eat fish two or three times a week have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You also need plenty of B12 and folate in your diet. Again, a complete list of these is on page 104 of my book.
Moderator: Let’s talk about preventing memory loss. You mentioned foods. How about education and activity?
Member question: Do you agree with the “use it or lose it” philosophy for preventing memory loss, such as playing chess, reading, and doing puzzles?
Fotuhi: The answer is absolutely yes. Use it or lose it really applies to your brain as much as it applies to your muscles. Several studies in the past two or three years have confirmed this notion. People who do more crossword puzzles, play chess, or enjoy activities that require thinking, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
I often find it surprising on how well my patients do if they had a strong history of education and if they maintain an interest for learning. Even when they do develop Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, they continue to function fairly well. Sometimes when we look at the brains of some of our participants in the Alzheimer’s disease research center after they die, we find that they had Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, but did not have any signs of dementia when we last saw them.
In summary, those who actively use their brains and enjoy hobbies and participate in volunteering activities, social activities and enjoy going to museums, going to the aquarium, or taking dance lessons do very well as they age.
Moderator: Can you address the issue of various herbs that claim to improve memory?
Fotuhi: The only vitamin supplement I recommend is vitamin E. I also strongly recommend to my patients and family to eat five pieces of fruits and vegetables a day.
The studies showing the effects of various herbs, such as gingko biloba are controversial. There are several studies now under way to once and for all determine the effectiveness of these herbs. My recommendation is that if you are taking these herbs and you do find them helpful, you can continue taking them. However, if you are considering which of the several different supplements to take, I recommend vitamin E and eating five pieces of fruits and vegetables a day.
Member question: How can the average person determine what is normal forgetfulness that comes with age and what is a sign of something more serious?
Fotuhi: There are several tests that help doctors distinguish between normal forgetfulness that comes with aging and the worrisome forgetfulness that is associated with a disease. My quick way of determining the difference is to ask my patients if they have stopped doing their routine activities because of memory loss. If they have stopped some of their hobbies or if they cannot complete their job responsibilities, I worry for their memory. Again, the cause of memory loss may be depression. Memory loss is not synonymous with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I also have a list of questions on page 150 of my book to help people determine if their memory loss is significant and worrisome.
Member question: My 64-year-old husband has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and started on Aricept. Do you really think that Aricept can slow down the progression of this disease?
Fotuhi: There are several studies to determine whether any of the Alzheimer’s medications slow down their progression of the disease. So far, none of the medications have made a significant difference in survival of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They are very helpful in reversing the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and may reduce the progression of the disease to a small degree, but they are not the magic drugs that everybody would love to have.
Fortunately, there are at least a dozen new medications in different stages of development, which may, indeed, slow Alzheimer’s disease and help patients tot fight the disease for many more years. I am very optimistic.
Member question: What do you know about memantine/Ebixa, which has been in use in Europe for 12 to 15 years? Will it be available in the U.S. soon? When? I have personal experience with it with friends and family members in Germany, and it has worked miracles in all cases. I was also able to obtain some for my stepfather who is in the moderate to severe range and it has turned life around for my mother who is the caregiver. Life has improved immensely and Dad has become more pleasant and helpful and considerate. His sister began taking it in 1995 when she began wandering from home, sometimes in the nude, going to the cemetery to talk with her deceased husband. Since being on memantine she caries on in a more normal fashion and “behaves” as a more normal, more pleasant and functioning person.
If this drug does work so well, why does it take our FDA so long to help people (and their caregivers) who are at the end of their rope already? In this case, why shouldn’t Americans have the same opportunity to use a medication that makes daily life more bearable for both patient and caregiver?
Fotuhi: FDA has very high standards for safety of the medications that reach the American households. However, we expect memantine to be available in our pharmacies in the next few months, and definitely by January 2004. This drug is most helpful for patients in their mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of my patients do try to obtain memantine from Europe. I usually have no objection if they can obtain this medication. There are several other medications that are also under development and we should see a list of new medications in the next three to five years.
Member question: My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her 50s, my uncle in his late 60s, and my father died from complications of the disease in his late 70s. Has it been shown that a genetic link definitely exists at this point, and if so are there any reliable estimates of how absolute that association is?
Fotuhi: People who have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease are at a higher risk of developing this disease as well. However, it is important to keep the numbers in mind:
- The risk for people in their 60s is 1 in 100.
- The risk for people who have a family member with Alzheimer’s and who are in their 60s is 2 in 100.
So the risk is doubled, which means 1%-2%. However:
- Having high blood pressure increases the risk more than two or three times.
- Having high cholesterol also doubles the risk.
- People who lack a diet rich in vitamins also have a higher risk of developing dementia.
- Depression doubles the risk as well.
- People who lack intellectual stimulation and watch TV most of the time are also at risk of developing dementia.
So my recommendation to adults who have family members with Alzheimer’s disease is to check their risk factors, which are:
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lonely lifestyle with no fun hobbies
- Intellectual laziness
- Low vitamin diet
- Daily stress
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have the opportunity to lower your risk and make it less than those who do not have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease.
Member question: Are the number of vascular dementia patients increasing or is it a direct result of people just living longer?
Fotuhi: That is an excellent question. The longer a person lives the higher will be his or her chance of developing dementia. Often people have a mixture of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you live to be 120 years old, you have more than a 90% chance of being demented.
The goal of current studies is to find the best ways to postpone the onset of dementia. And several studies have shown that people who reduce their vascular risks during their midlife protect their brains against Alzheimer’s when they get into their 80s and 90s. With the current trend toward preventing dementia, I suspect that when the current baby boomers reach their eighth or ninth decade of life they will be able to keep their brains sharp and develop Alzheimer’s when they pass their 100th anniversary.
I think it is possible for people to be proactive to protect their brains and memories in the decades to come and ward off dementia until the very last year of their life.
Moderator: What should you do if you think a medication may be affecting your memory?
Fotuhi: There are many medications that cause memory loss as one of their side effects. Fortunately, there are different alternatives for each medication and if you think that starting a medication coincided with your memory difficulties, you can ask your doctor to consider an alternative medication.
Moderator: Dr. Fotuhi, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us?
Fotuhi: People take it for granted knowing that eating hamburgers every day, constant stressing over minute details, spending weekends as a couch potato, smoking, and obesity increase the risk for developing heart attacks and strokes. Now there is a revolution in the field of memory research and Alzheimer’s. The results of several studies in different countries all point to the fact that risk factors that cause heart attacks and strokes also increase a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
It is important for baby boomers to take an active approach to protect their brain against dementia. They need to check their list of risk factors and start doing it today. I recommend to people to stop complaining about their memory and start doing something about it. They have many opportunities to do so. If they want, they can read my book to learn all about it.
Moderator: Thanks to Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, for sharing his expertise with us today. For more information, please read his book, The Memory Cure: How to Protect Your Brain Against Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Health factors that have been shown to increase the risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have now been found to increase the likelihood of memory complaints across all adult age groups, including young adults between the ages of 18-39.
There have been many studies carried out previously that have found a connection between health problems and cognitive functioning, our ability to process thoughts. In the past few months, Medical News Today has reported on research connecting artery narrowing with memory problems, as well as a study that suggested thinking skills are best in those who had better cardiovascular fitness in their youth.
A new study, carried out by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in the journal PLOS ONE, claims to be the first to determine that these risk factors may be indicative of early memory complaints.
Researchers polled 18,552 individuals aged 18 to 99 about their memory and a variety of lifestyle and health factors. They used telephone and cellphone interviews, capturing a representative 90% of the US population, focusing on factors known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, such as depression, diabetes, lower education levels, obesity and smoking.
The study found that many of these risk factors increased the chances of self-perceived memory complaints, but most importantly that this was the case across all adult age groups. Of those polled, 20% were found to have memory complaints; this included 14% of young adults, 22% of middle-aged adults (ages 40-59) and 26% of older adults (ages 60-99).
Just one risk factor significantly increases frequency of memory complaints
The risk factors found to increase the likelihood of memory complaints were depression, low levels of education, physical inactivity and high blood pressure. Across all age groups, the strongest single risk factor for memory complaints was depression.
Dr. Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center, was the study’s senior author and was surprised by how prevalent memory issues were among young adults.
He also noted that previous studies, such as one published earlier this year investigating recovery from traumatic brain injury, have shown that education is a key element of “cognitive reserve” – how the brain is able to function with regards to damage it has suffered.
Share on PinterestThe chances of self-perceived memory complaints are increased by risk factors across all adult age groups.
His team’s new research suggests that the pursuit of educational activities can have a beneficial effect at any age.
One potential limitation with the study’s findings was that the researchers noted that young adults might suffer from different memory issues to those afflicting older individuals.
They identified that stress and multi-tasking brought on by the continual presence of technology (the Internet and wireless devices) could have a greater impact on the attention spans of young adults, making it more difficult for them to focus and remember things.
The researchers hoped that their findings would raise awareness about the importance of reducing these risk factors at any age. Dr. Stephen Chen, first author of the study and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute, suggests screening and treatment for depression and high blood pressure, increased exercise, and furthering one’s education as ways in which the risk factors could be lowered.
Following on from these findings, author Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and associate director of UCLA’s Longevity Center, outlines what the next step will be:
”We’re planning to use these results as a basis for future studies to better understand how reducing these risk factors may possibly lower the frequency of memory complaints.”
For now, this research from UCLA has emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and it suggests that the general public can begin to look after their minds from an early age by looking after their bodies.