Memory Loss: Is it Alzheimer's?

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I’ve become forgetful, do I have Alzheimer’s disease?

Not everyone suffering from forgetfulness will develop Alzheimer’s disease. In the United States, only 6 to 8% of people over the age of 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. If this disease concerns you, we suggest you consult your doctor and discuss any worries you may have about memory problems. Another good source of information is the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s Web site at

Generally speaking, the earlier an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is established, the earlier effective intervention strategies can be implemented. And the problem should not be downplayed. If your memory problems are worrying you and affecting your quality of life, then you should consult a health professional. This person can test your memory and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist to establish a formal diagnosis.

Are you worried about a loved one?

The ability to retain information varies from one person to another and changes with age. If you are concerned about a loved one's memory problems, it's advisable to consult a health professional. Most people associate forgetfulness with Alzheimer's disease, which can add to their stress and affect their memory even more. However, sometimes these memory problems can be related to a treatable condition (for example a vitamin B12 deficiency).

A doctor can assess the person's sense of direction, listening ability, short- and long-term memory, language, and judgment. If the memory problems are benign, the doctor will be able to reassure your loved one and possibly give them tricks for improving the situation. If the problems are symptoms of a memory disease, the doctor may refer you to a specialist (geriatrician, neurologist, or neuropsychologist). There is help for people with memory problems; the important thing is to talk about them. An early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can slow and potentially delay the progression of memory disease (such as Alzheimer's).


Case in point

Meet Louise

Louise is 61 years old and has had to retire suddenly after suffering a herniated disk. She is very worried about her memory: she feels her mind is going. She has trouble remembering conversations with her kids even just a few hours afterwards, and for the last few months she has been forgetting appointments. She doesn’t dare tell anyone about this and tries to hide her forgetfulness. She is attributing the problem to old age. Thirty years ago, that’s probably what she would have been told, but not now! We now know that memory loss is not always associated with normal aging. Louise went through a major change by taking a sudden retirement and this could be affecting her memory. The medications she is taking to help with the pain and to sleep at night could also be causing forgetfulness. Worrying over her memory lapses is making the problem worse as well. Her doctor could help determine the cause of her memory loss, alter her prescriptions and give her some tips for making her memory work more efficiently.

Meet John’s and Catherine’s mom

John and Catherine talk to their mother every day. In the last while, she has been having memory lapses far more frequently and often repeats the same stories. She also seems depressed and is isolating herself more and more. Even though they are trying to stimulate her memory, she has lost interest in day-to-day activities. They are attributing their mom’s forgetfulness to the fact that she is getting older. But their mother’s problems should actually be reported to a doctor because they are starting to prevent her from living independently. It might not be Alzheimer’s, but medical advice is required.

Next: The Causes of Memory Problems


We are pleased to house this series of FAQs supervised by Cara Tannenbaum, from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

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