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.
Age-related memory changes
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.
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NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
The NIA ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.
Explore the Alzheimers.gov portal for information and resources on Alzheimer’s and related dementias from across the federal government.
This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.
Content reviewed: January 24, 2018