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Symptoms and Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

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.

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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.

Differences Between Normal Aging and 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
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • 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 a long time, 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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For More Information About Memory Loss

Alzheimer's Association
1-800-272-3900 (toll-free, 24/7) 
1-866-403-3073 (TTY/toll-free)
info@alz.org
www.alz.org

Alzheimer's Foundation of America
1-866-232-8484 (toll-free)
info@alzfdn.org
www.alzfdn.org

National Institute of Mental Health
1-866-615-6464 (toll-free)
1-866-415-8051 (TTY/toll-free)
nimhinfo@nih.gov
www.nimh.nih.gov

Eldercare Locator
1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
www.eldercare.gov


Updated: July 25, 2017

If you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer's & Dementia, please call us at 1-800-438-4380, Mon-Fri, 8:30 am-5:00 pm Eastern Time or send an email to adear@nia.nih.gov