Health Care Lifestyle

What is Memory Loss?

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AHT Hind Kettani Neuro Photoshoot

As we get older, it’s no surprise that our bodies — and our brains — change. Mild forgetfulness and a slight decline in our brain power usually is a normal part aging.

“With aging, we process information more slowly, it becomes more difficult to concentrate and we can’t learn as fast as we used to,” says board-certified neurologist and epileptologist Hind Kettani, MD. Sometimes, however, these issues can worsen and lead to memory loss. Here’s what you need to know about it and when to see a doctor.

What is Memory Loss?

Most of us forget things sometimes, like where we left our glasses or the name of a new neighbor. But if you have actual memory loss, you struggle to consistently remember things that you didn’t have trouble with previously, like following a recipe or finding the way home when you’re driving.

“Memory loss becomes a concern when you’re consistently forgetful or confused,” Dr. Kettani says. “Or if it interferes with your daily life or ability to live or work. Then we recommend that you see a doctor.”

There are two types of memory loss. Sudden memory loss, also known as amnesia, can be a result of an illness or injury. Progressive memory loss develops over time and can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Causes of Memory Loss

The causes of each type of memory loss differ. Some causes of acute and temporary memory loss include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Brain surgery, minor head injury or traumatic brain injury
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Seizure

Progressive memory loss typically develops due to disruptions in brain activity and a gradual decline in brain function. It can be caused by:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and other neurogenerative diseases
  • Brain tumors
  • Dementia, including frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis

Signs of Memory Loss

Memory loss often starts as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A person with MCI has noticeable but manageable declines in cognitive function. They can still manage their daily functions but notice a change in their memory or ability to think or speak clearly.

When MCI grows more severe over time, it becomes progressive memory loss. Signs of memory loss vary from person to person but can include:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Being confused about time or place
  • Experiencing mood fluctuations
  • Forgetting or mixing up common words when speaking
  • Difficulty with previously familiar tasks

If you’re concerned about memory loss, talk to your primary care physician. They may conduct physical and mental tests to learn more about what’s causing your symptoms. Or they may refer you to a neurologist, who specializes in the brain and nervous system, or a geriatrician, who focuses on older adults.

Your evaluation can include a combination of:

  • Blood and spinal fluid tests to rule out other conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, infections or metabolic disorders and to look for biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Genetic tests for people with a strong family history of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Brain imaging such as a CT scan, MRI and others
  • EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure brain wave activity
  • Physical and neurological exams
  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests

Based on the results of these exams, your doctor can identify a diagnosis and recommend a personalized treatment plan.

How is Memory Loss Treated?

If you have temporary or acute memory loss, like amnesia, you need immediate medical attention. It can be a result of an aneurysm, stroke or other serious condition. Without treatment, you may risk brain damage.

Progressive memory loss treatment depends on its causes and severity when diagnosed. It’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible for the best options to manage your symptoms, slow disease progression and maintain your quality of life.

Medication is not yet a treatment for mild cognitive impairment, but your doctor might recommend:

  • Making lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and engaging with others socially
  • Adopting a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet
  • Managing cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
  • Treating depression, if needed
  • Participating in cognitive training, which are exercises to help improve memory and brain function

Treatment for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia depends on the cause but can include:

  • One or a combination of medications
  • Managing conditions like poor sleep, depression or anxiety that can make memory issues worse
  • Occupational therapy to help you manage everyday tasks

Research is underway to find additional treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, including new medications and deep brain stimulation.

Talk with your doctor to determine the best plan for you. Early diagnosis and treatment of memory loss is critical to help you manage symptoms, talk with your family about the support you need and plan for the future, including your medical care.

Joining You on Your Journey

Memory loss can feel scary and uncomfortable to discuss. Yet addressing and treating it early is the best way to manage symptoms, identify support and maintain a better quality of life. It’s much better to ask questions and express concerns right away than to try to ignore or hide signs.

AdventHealth offers expert, compassionate care for your body, mind and spirit as you age. We are here to help you navigate memory loss issues with dignity and hope. Learn more.

About Dr. Kettani

Hind Kettani, MD
Hind Kettani, MD

Hind Kettani, MD is a board certified and fellowship-trained neurologist. She provides comprehensive care in behavioral conditions associated with seizures including education on how to recognize and initiate aid to the ongoing management and treatment of the disease. With more than a decade of experience, Dr. Kettani is committed to giving her patients excellent, compassionate care for the best quality of life. She is fluent in English, French, Arabic, and Moroccan.

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