Know the 10 Memory Loss Warning Signs

(Podcast #016)

Please forgive typos. Transcripts are created by an automated service.


It's normal for an older adult to forget where they put their keys, look all over their glasses then realize they're wearing them or have trouble remembering someone's name. But there comes a time when memory loss can be really scary and concerning. So here are 10 warning signs to let you know that you might want to start the conversation with your loved one about memory loss and make an appointment with their doctor for further evaluation.

I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a board certified clinical psychologist and I specialize with older adults and families. I created the Psychology of Aging podcast to answer some of the most common questions I get about aging: questions about mental health and wellness, changes in the brain like with dementia, relationships and sex, caregiving, and even end of life. Like I say in my therapy groups, no topic is off. topic, we just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So if you're an older adult or caring for one, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

As we get started, I wanted to share with you a memory loss guide that I made just for you. In it, there's a checklist of the warning signs that I'm going to talk about today. It also tells you what you need to do. If you're worried that your older loved one might have memory loss and the benefits of an early diagnosis of dementia. Let me just also start by saying memory loss does not equal dementia. Not everybody with memory loss has dementia. So head on over to my show notes and download the free memory loss guide. You're gonna learn a lot more there and I highly recommend it.

Okay, so let's dive in to the 10 memory loss warning signs. So there are common changes with the brain that come with age. And then there are changes with the brain that are not normal parts of aging. And let me just say dementia is not a normal part of aging. And I want you to repeat that dementia is not a normal part of aging. Just because somebody has memory loss doesn't mean that a person has dementia, but sometimes memory loss can indicate dementia. So I am going to review the 10 must know memory loss warning signs, so that if any of these are showing up in your loved one or in yourself, you'll know that you want to get them checked out with your doctor.


1. Memory loss that affects daily life

So the first memory loss warning sign is memory loss. Sometimes what's normal is sometimes forgetting names or appointments or where you put your keys. But what's less normal and more concerning is forgetting information that you just learned. So this could include forgetting important dates or events or asking for the same information over and over and over and needing to rely on family members, or memory aids for things that you used to be able to handle on your own. So here's an example. So say there's a mother daughter, right? And the daughter says, Mom, we're going to go to a doctor's appointment today. You've met her before... you've met this doctor before;  her name is Dr. Patel. And your mom says Dr. Patel, I don't remember meeting Dr. Patel. Mom, you remember Dr. Patel, she's your primary care doctor. And then your mom says, Oh, that's right. She's at the Midtown Medical Center and she just had a baby. I remember her now. Okay, that's typical. That's normal. That's not necessarily concerning.

What is more concerning is if the conversation goes like this: "Mom, we're gonna go to a doctor's appointment today. You've met this doctor before, her name is Dr. Patel." Then Five minutes later. "Okay, Mom, are you ready to go?" And then the mom says, "What do you mean? Am I ready to go? Go where?"Mom, I just told you that we're going to the doctor today. You never told me that. Yes, I told you that we're going to see Dr. Patel. Dr. Patel, I don't know any Dr. Patel." So that's more concerning, because you had just told your mom that you're going to be going to the doctor. She learned that new information and then five minutes later, she has no clue what you're talking about. That is more concerning for memory loss. You want to get that checked out.


2. Challenges in planning or problem solving

Number two: Challenges in planning or problem solving. What's normal is making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook. What's not as typical or normal is say your loved one was an accountant or a bookkeeper and is now having trouble paying the bills or filing taxes. So that is more concerning. So challenges in planning or problem solving. So this could also show up as like maybe your loved one was a really good cook or a baker and now they're having trouble following a familiar recipe or something like that.


3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure

Alright, number three: Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. So what's typical and not necessarily concerning is occasionally needing help to use settings on a microwave or record a TV show. What's less typical and what is indeed more concerning is that say your loved one goes shopping at the same grocery store, you know, for the past 10 years, and all of a sudden your loved one is getting lost driving home from this grocery store. So that is more concerning that they're having more difficulty completing a familiar task.


4. Confusion with time and place

All right, number four: Confusion with time and place. So this is kind of like a hallmark dementia symptom, right? Like the person is remembering things from the past and talking as if they're currently happening. So for example, you might be in the middle of a conversation and your loved one chimes in with a story about an event in their young adulthood with old friends and family as if this event just took place today, and then continues the conversation as if it's the conversation from 50 years ago, that is more concerning. So confusion with time and place. What's more concerning is when somebody loses track of dates and seasons and the passage of time. Sometimes the person might forget where they are or how they got there. That is more concerning for significant memory loss or condition causing significant memory loss like dementia. So you You'll definitely want to get that checked out as well.


5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. 

Number five is trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. So what's normal is older adults often experience cataracts or glaucoma and those can get corrected. Right. But what's not as normal, especially... so with dementia, one of the symptoms of dementia that doesn't happen for everybody, but it happens for some people with dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease is having vision problems. So maybe they're having more trouble reading and writing and judging distance or determining colors. And all of these vision changes as you can imagine, could also cause problems with driving, you know. Vision changes could be indicative of so many conditions, you know, like, macular degeneration or cataracts or glaucoma like I was just talking about, but if those are ruled out, and there's still some challenges with visual images or spatial relationships, or reading and writing, you might want to talk about that further with your primary care doctor and do a cognitive screening. So, I have an interview with Lauren Dykovitz, who cared for her mom for 10 years who had Alzheimer's disease. One of the early signs that her mom was showing up Alzheimer's disease was changes in her vision. And so if you want to learn more about that, I'll link to my interview with Lauren Dykovitz about her mom's journey with Alzheimer's disease and, and also she talks a lot about how it started. So I'll link to that in my show notes. And that gives a great example of what early symptoms can look like and she had early onset Alzheimer's disease which I think she was diagnosed at 62 or 65. And she was very young.


6. New problems with words and speaking or writing.

Okay, similar to visual and spatial relationships. Another... number six memory loss warning sign are new problems with words and speaking or writing. So sometimes it's pretty typical for older adults to have trouble finding the right word. Or you might hear them say that it's on the tip of my tongue. Give me a minute, give me a minute, but then they can retrieve the word they can find it. You know, this happens to me too, especially if I haven't slept well the night before. Or I'm super stressed,  my brain gets more jumbled up. What's more concerning for a cognitive disorder or a dementia disorder or significant memory loss, is trouble following or joining a conversation so the person might stop in the middle of the conversation and have no idea how to continue or they might repeat themselves. Maybe the person struggles with vocabulary and has problems problems finding the right word or calling things by their right name. And, of course, you know, what's so challenging with all the changes that are happening or that are pretty typical on older bodies, is that if the person has hearing impairment that might contribute to this difficulty with conversation. So we really want to encourage our loved ones to make sure that they have adequate hearing and adequate hearing tests and hearing aids if they're willing to pursue that. But if that is all ruled out, and they're still having challenges, you definitely want to get that checked out for a memory loss.


7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps.

Number seven memory loss warning sign is misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps. So what's typical and not necessarily concerning is a person will misplace things from time to time and then retrace their steps to find them. I mean, raise your hand if you've done that. I do that multiple times a week: my sunglasses, my keys, my brain. I am constantly misplacing things. Don't judge! What's more concerning for memory loss or cognitive changes, is that a person with dementia disorder may put things in unusual places, you know, like a box of Kleenex in the refrigerator, they might lose things and not be able to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes your loved one might accuse others of stealing from them. And maybe you're noticing this occur more more and more often over time. So that's something you'll want to get checked out with from a primary care provider as well.


8. Decreased or poor judgment. 

Number eight, is decreased or poor judgment. You know, all of us make bad decisions, or poor decisions, or maybe not the healthiest decision every once in a while. A couple of times, I've worked with older adults who have who do not have any cognitive disorder but maybe made a bad decision like buying a new car when they didn't really need one. Maybe it wasn't the most financially responsible decision. But they're entitled to make decision using poor judgment. Right? What's more concerning for memory loss or a dementia disorder are problematic decisions related to poor judgment. So for example, I have many folks who I work with who will be indiscriminate online with who they share their personal information with like to telemarketers or sweepstakes or buying lots and lots of supplements hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of supplements. They also might use poor judgment related to their grooming. So they may be physically able to do their own grooming, but cognitively are paying less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

9. Withdrawal from work and activities.

Alright, number nine, the number nine memory loss warning sign is withdrawal from work and activities. So what's typical is that sometimes we all need a break from work and social obligations. What's more concerning though is that when somebody with cognitive changes, might start to remove themselves from their hobbies, or social activities or other engagements, and then they might have trouble keeping up with what their friends are doing, or their favorite sports team, or remembering how to play cards, and especially if that was like one of their favorite activities. What I often see in my practice is people becoming less social, when they used to be social butterflies, but less social because of changes that are happening. So what I notice with a lot of folks that I work with is that, especially when there's the beginning of a dementia disorder or cognitive disorder is that they'll be less talkative with others, they'll trust themselves less,  they'll experience less self confidence, they'll be worried that maybe they're gonna say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. And so kind of keep quiet. Maybe there's some recognition that they are not keeping up in conversation and that can be overwhelming or overstimulating. And so as a result, that person might withdraw from activities. And so that that's a warning sign as well.


10. Changes in mood and personality. 

And coupled with that is number 10, which are changes in mood and personality. And so what's tricky is number nine and number 10, withdrawal from social activities or changes in mood and personality. These could be due to a mental health condition, which can be very treatable in older adults. But this is where assessment and evaluation by a professional comes in is that we really need to look and see, can we treat this and of course, if we can treat treat it we want to treat it. And I'll also say depression is not a normal part of aging, either. So if you're noticing changes in mood and personality, please get them checked out because if it's depression or anxiety, we can help with tha.  Or insomnia, we can help with that. There are very good treatments, talk therapy, antidepressants, which can help. Okay, so let me go back to talking a little bit more about changes in mood and personality. What is typical or normal is, you know, becoming irritable or frustrated from time to time. What is less typical and more concerning, though, is that the mood and the personality of the person might be might start to change and you start could start to notice that they might become more confused or suspicious or depressed or scared or anxious. They might become more rigid, like hyper vigilant and very watchful. They might be easily upset at home or at work, or with friends, or in places where they're out of their comfort zone. Maybe you notice anxiety on the road like with road rage, and maybe they loved to driving before. So if you're noticing any of these signs, you'll definitely want to get them checked out. Because as I mentioned before, if it's depression, anxiety, insomnia, there are excellent treatments for older adults that are very effective. And once that gets treated, if the cognitive issues or the memory loss maintains, then that is something more concerning for dementia disorder, so we definitely want to get that checked out.


Download the Free Memory Loss Guide

So those are the 10 must know memory loss warning signs. If you checked off any of those or you're concerned that your older loved one has memory loss, please get them connected with their doctor for further evaluation. You don't have to remember these either. I have an excellent and free memory loss guide that will help you. It actually has the a checklist of all of the warning signs I listed today. It gives you information about what to do if you're worried that your older loved one might have memory loss and what the benefits are of early detection of a dementia disorder. So please head on over to my show notes and download that now. And then join me next week where I'm going to dive deeper into what to do if your loved one is exhibiting these memory loss warning signs.


Subscribe & Leave a Review

All right. If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave a review.  Subscriptions and reviews help people to find this show. I think you've probably heard me say this before, but I'm going to say it again. And again and again. Because here's why subscribing and leaving a review is so important. Older adults and their families are often left out of the conversation when it comes to mental health and wellness. So do your part to include them by subscribing and leaving a review. When you subscribe and leave a review, it helps people to find this show and my resources, and the whole point of it is so people don't have to do this alone. And will know what's typical with aging? What's more concerning? When should I be checking in at the doctor and what should I be expecting from the doctor? All sorts of things like that. As always, the information shared in this episode is for educational purposes only, and should not take the place of licensed medical or mental health care. I'll see you next week.Same time, same place. Lots of love to you and your family. Bye for now.

Back to Original Episode

Join My Email!

I'll send you tips and resources for caring for your older loved ones... and yourself!

I'll never share your email. Cross my heart!


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.