Life From This Point

A Blog About Retirement & Aging

Senior Moments, Part II

In the last post I listed the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s published by the Alzheimer’s Association. But it is important to know that even if you or someone you love is experiencing any of these warning signs, it does not automatically indicate Alzheimer’s disease. There are a number of reversible causes of memory problems. Here are 10 of them:

1.  Depression

When you are grieving a loss, facing a major life change or struggling with loneliness or boredom, it is a short slide into depression.  A depressed person may appear distracted, forgetful or exhibit impaired judgment until the mood disorder is treated.

2.  Nutritional deficiencies or dehydration

Malnutrition or severe dehydration can cause symptoms that mimic dementia as can low levels of Vitamin B-12.  Older people, who are especially vulnerable, may exhibit confusion, slowed responses or memory loss.  Mental functioning is usually quickly restored when diet is improved, fluid intake is increased or when B-12 levels are boosted through injections.

3.  Side effects of medications

Many prescribed drugs can cause cognitive problems and memory loss, especially as we age and metabolize medications more slowly than when we were younger.  This is a much more common side effect than you might think and the offenders include widely used meds such as sleeping pills, painkillers, antihistamines, blood pressure and cholesterol drugs among others. Due diligence is advised.

4.  Polypharmacy

Polypharmacy is taking multiple medications to manage multiple health problems.  Generally, that means taking more than 3 or 4 meds and it is a rampant problem among older adults. When I’ve worked in nursing homes, it is not uncommon to find a single patient taking 15 or more. (You just know that can’t be good.)  Studies have documented increased risk of dementia in patients who take excessive amounts of medication.  If you are taking more than 3 medications, I recommend discussing the risks with your doctor.

Note:  Please don’t stop taking prescribed medications without consulting your physician.

5.  Alcoholism or alcohol abuse

What our parents always told us is true–alcohol destroys brain cells.  Excessive intake may increase the risk of dementia.  Currently the recommended daily intake for those of us who imbibe is no more 2 drinks for men and 1 for women.

6.  Thyroid imbalance

A thyroid gland that is out of whack can cause symptoms that mimic dementia.  These symptoms are usually reversible with proper medication.

7. Brain lesions, tumors or blood clots

Normal pressure hydrocephalus, brain tumors or other lesions can interfere with normal brain functioning causing the sufferer to exhibit personality or behavior changes.  Blood clots (subdural hematoma) resulting from even minor head injuries can also cause problems. Intervention can sometimes reverse the symptoms.

8.  Infections

Infections of brain structures, such as meningitis,  encephalitis or syphilis can result in memory impairment or abnormal behaviors.

9. Sleep apnea

Anyone can have an occasional sleepless night but chronic sleep deprivation is torture.  (Literally.)  If you find yourself nodding off during the day or having trouble staying focused on conversations, you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to pause breathing as they sleep.  This results in poor oxygen flow to the brain which inhibits essential REM sleep.  Many people with sleep apnea are raucous snorers but others are quiet as a mouse.  Sleep apnea is diagnosed through an overnight sleep study.

10.  Hearing or vision problems

Often stubborn pride gets in the way and we resist admitting we can’t hear as well as we used to.  And when was the last time you had your eyes checked for cataracts or vision changes? What looks like memory loss may actually be something that was never registered in the memory bank because it was never seen or heard in the first place.


IMO, people who attribute significant changes in memory or behavior to “old age” or who avoid seeking medical advice because they are afraid of what they might find out are suffering from the Ostrich Syndrome.  If you or someone you love is experiencing personality changes or memory loss, please see a doctor.  The causes may be treatable.  And if it is dementia, an early diagnosis will give you time to make plans, express your wishes for treatment and get legal and financial matters sorted out while you can still participate in making decisions.

Has dementia touched your life or the life of someone you love?

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