Older woman looks out the window wondering when to see a doctor for memory loss

When to See a Doctor for Memory Loss

Forgetfulness is a normal part of the aging process. Losing the car keys, forgetting someone’s name and missing a bill payment are typically minor memory problems that don’t present an issue. 

But when those minor hiccups become an everyday occurrence, it can sometimes be a sign of a bigger problem. The earlier an individual can visit a doctor to discuss their concerns, the better – especially as treatments can be prescribed or adjustments made to lessen the symptoms.  

Memory loss from dementia  

Dementia is not a sign of normal aging but a medical disease that can be treated. It includes many types of progressive brain disorders where overall cognition declines, and the individual has problems with memory, communication, language and decision-making to the point where it severely affects their life. Making the correct diagnosis is extremely important because some types of dementia are curable or treatable. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.  

The National Institute on Aging offers advice on what individuals can expect from the normal aging process, versus signs of Alzheimer’s disease:  

Signs of normal aging  Signs of Alzheimer’s disease 
Making occasional bad decisions   Making poor decisions a lot of the time 
Missing a monthly payment   Difficulty managing monthly bills 
Forgetting what day it is, but remembering later   Losing track of the time, date or year 
Sometimes forgetting which word to use   Trouble having a conversation 
Losing things from time to time  Often misplacing things and unable to find them 

 Other signs of potential dementia include:  

  • Asking the same question over and over 
  • Decline in personal hygiene  
  • Difficulty doing things that should be familiar 
  • Mood changes 
  • Problems with vision, spatial awareness and judging distance 
  • Trouble with problem-solving or planning things in advance 
  • Withdrawing from social life 

Memory loss from medical problems 

Aging isn’t the only factor in memory loss. Some medical issues can affect your memory. In these cases, memory loss is reversible, according to the Mayo Clinic 

  • Alcoholism  
  • Brain diseases, including a tumor or brain infection  
  • Emotional disorders including stress, anxiety and depression  
  • Hypothyroidism  
  • Medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion  
  • Minor head trauma or head injury  
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency 

Find a doctor  

If you have concerns about your own memory loss, or the memory loss of a loved one, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a doctor. Primary care providers are a good place to start. They can screen you for medical issues and refer you to specialists if needed after a diagnosis.  

Consider taking a family member or friend to the appointment to assist in answering questions. Prepare yourself to answer questions such as:  

  • Are you experiencing new stress, a major change or had a sudden loss?  
  • Have you recently been in an accident, fallen or hurt your head?  
  • What medications are you taking?  
  • When did problems with your memory begin?  

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network members can find a doctor near them by using the Find a Doctor tool, available on both bcbsm.com and the BCBSM mobile app 

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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