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Is Your Memory Failing You? Part 2: Alzheimer’s Disease And Other Dementia

By Beverly Matoney Medically reviewed by Michael Ribadeneyra, MD, Shelby Medical Associates

In Part 1 of this series, (linked here) we discussed memory loss that isn’t related to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. This article will go in depth to explain more about these moderate to severe forms of brain disorders, their symptoms and what you can do if you or a loved one begin showing signs of severe memory loss or other behavioral changes.

How Can I Tell The Difference Between Mild Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s?

Mild Memory Loss Due To Aging Or Other Factors     Moderate To Severe Memory Loss Due To  Alzheimer’s Or Other Dementia  
Occasionally misplacing items, but later remembering where they are   Losing items, or placing them in unusual locations, such as eyeglasses  in the refrigerator  
Forgetting to pay a bill once in a while   Being unable to manage simple personal finances  
Making mistakes with names and dates, but being able to recall later, or check a calendar   Repeatedly asking for the same information, such as what day it is or who someone is  
Being unable to find a certain word you’d like to use in a conversation   A noticeable change in the ability to hold a normal conversation or put thoughts on paper  
Having to look up a recipe or other complex instructions because you’ve forgotten a step Losing problem-solving abilities for familiar tasks, such as making coffee or getting dressed
  Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect more than just memory centers in the brain. Once the disorders progress, other changes are noticeable and should be addressed by your doctor.  

Increasing Behavioral Changes To Watch For


Making Bad Decisions

  We can’t all make good judgment calls all the time. Every now and then we’re going to pick a bad haircut or sign up for a program that doesn’t benefit us.   But when you or your loved one lose the ability to make good decisions, it’s time to see the doctor. Being taken in by phone scams for money or going out for the day wearing pajamas or other inappropriate clothing can be signs of waning judgment and progressing dementia.  

Becoming Disinterested In Family, Friends And Hobbies

  Another possible indicator of dementia is losing interest in things that are a part of your everyday life. Deciding to skip your weekly bridge game, or not caring if your favorite sports team wins this weekend, or even becoming uninterested in visiting with family and friends are all warning signs that should not be ignored.  


  Occasionally forgetting what day of the month it is shouldn’t be a concern. However, if you or a loved one lose track of years, this could be a sign of more serious dementia. Being unaware that time is passing can lead to behaviors such as behaving many years younger than your age or becoming upset if someone points out that it’s not the year you thought.   Sometimes disorientation will lead to you or your loved one not recognizing friends or family and becoming frightened or angry at being approached by strangers. Another example would be not understanding where you are or why you happen to be there at that time.  

Disruptions in Interpreting Visual and Spatial Information

  While cataracts can impair your vision, not being able to recognize faces or losing depth perception can cause tremendous problems. Falling on stairs, being unable to drive or navigate home, or having difficulties climbing into a bathtub can all become more commonplace as dementia progresses.   Changes in how the brain processes visual and spatial information can result in not recognizing even familiar locations or everyday objects. Wandering away from home or losing your way even inside your home can lead to dangerous situations. Reading can become impossible, as can locating items in plain sight.  

Anger, Paranoia, and Other Unusual Behavioral Changes

  Knowing what you want and how you want it, and being grumpy when things aren’t to your liking could just be part of aging. But if you or a loved one are experiencing significant changes in mood or personality, it may be time to see the doctor.   Brain changes caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia can lead to unpredictable behavior, sudden outbursts and even violent episodes that aren’t consistent with your or their usual personality. Going beyond simple crankiness, the changes can lead to fear, paranoia, anxiety and confusion, which can also end up in tantrums and frightening melt downs.  

What Can I Do If These Symptoms Are Present?

  If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to be tested to uncover the underlying cause. While there is no specific test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, there are several other steps your doctor will take to eliminate other possible causes of your symptoms, such as those discussed in Part 1 of this series.  

What To Expect During An Exam To Investigate Memory Problems

  An initial visit to check for memory problems begins with some general health questions to zero in on symptoms and their severity. You will be asked about your daily routines and interactions plus questions about how these may have changed.   If you are answering questions about a loved one, the doctor will want to know what you or another family member have noticed about their recent behavior or personality. It’s also a good idea to talk about anything friends or caregivers have mentioned about changes over time.   Be sure to bring a list of current medications to the visit, and be prepared to answer questions about diet, exercise, and any use of alcohol or tobacco. Standard medical tests will also be performed to rule out any causes not related to dementia.  

Tests and Scans

  • There are several memory tests that can be performed, including those for recall, problem-solving, language and counting. These are helpful over time to see the rate brain changes may be occurring.
  • Certain neurological tests can rule out dementia as well. Your doctor will check your reflexes, speech, coordination, and eye movement to see if there is an underlying explanation for your memory problems.
  • Brain scans can also be used to eliminate other possible causes of memory loss such as tumors, evidence of stroke or injury, or a buildup of fluid on the brain, which can all contribute to problems with memory.
  These scans are non-invasive and can be repeated as a way to monitor any changes that may be happening in the brain over time.  

Early Diagnosis

  If another cause is found to be underlying your memory loss, available treatment options will be discussed. If all other causes are ruled out, there are still treatment options for Alzheimer’s dementia that can help maintain daily function for a time.   In addition, since the disease is progressive, you or your family will have time to plan for future needs such as financial and legal issues, health and safety concerns, and caregiving arrangements.  

What If It Is Alzheimer’s?

  Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or caring for someone going through this challenge can take a toll on you physically, emotionally and financially.   There will be new information to learn and decisions to make. By joining a support group, you can meet with others who are going through the same experiences and who will be able to share their advice and wisdom.   Here at Shelby Medical Associates, we offer our Chronic Care Management Program for eligible Medicare recipients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia in addition to at least one other chronic disease.   You can learn more about the CCM Program on our website or at our clinic. Your doctor can tell you more at your next visit.   You or your loved ones do not have to face Alzheimer’s dementia alone. Along with organizations such as the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association, we at Shelby Medical Associates are here to help you.