Contrary to popular belief, the normal aging process doesn't involve excessive memory loss. But there may be changes in how a person processes new information.
During the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, patients may be aware of the memory changes that are the first symptoms of these conditions.
However, as the disorder progresses, they become less aware of their memory lapses. Often they’ll lose interest in their problem or attribute it to another cause. At this point, it’s usually family members or close friends who seek help for them.
Forgetfulness is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but there are many other types of medical conditions that can cause memory problems. Forgetfulness can also be a sign of:
- Sleep problems
- Thyroid disorders
- Silent strokes
- Vitamin deficiencies
With proper treatment, many of these problems can be eliminated or controlled, improving the patient’s ability to remember.
When it comes to memory-loss evaluations, the right time is when changes begin to affect the person's everyday life, or when there is concern that the changes may not be normal. Prompt intervention may help slow the progression of disease and allow for treatment of coexisting conditions.
At the UC Irvine SeniorHealth Center, patients are given a physical exam and memory assessment. If the results show there is a need for further evaluation, the patient is referred to a psychologist for a comprehensive cognitive evaluation to test attention, concentration, memory, verbal and problem-solving skills.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and most other dementias, medications such as donepezil (Aricept) and galantamine (Reminyl) can help to maintain memory and preserve overall function for as long as possible.
An early diagnosis also allows patients to be treated for associated conditions such as depression. Caregivers also benefit because it gives them a chance to educate themselves about the disorder and prepare for the future.
Home-health care can allow people to remain in their own residences, with assistance ranging from homemakers and aides to nurses. Services may range from hands-on nursing care to housework and help with bathing, dressing and other daily living activities.
Assisted living facilities provide many of the same services—except for skilled nursing help—in a group setting. Residents live in private apartments, eat in a communal dining room, have access to transportation and can participate in scheduled social activities. Typically, several levels of care are available.
Skilled nursing facilities offer a fully supervised environment for people who need 24-hour nursing care, rehabilitation or protective supervision. A higher level of care is provided at skilled nursing facilities, which can act as a bridge between hospitalization and going home.
UC Irvine Health physicians, psychologists and social workers at the SeniorHealth Center can help you determine what steps to take. Our team can advise you and then, if needed, refer you to homecare agencies and long-term care facilities.