When is Memory Loss More than Mild Forgetfulness?


June 2019 is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and many people are wearing purple in solidarity with AD Awareness Month. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that over five million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the United States. Many seniors begin to worry about their memory and ability to think when they experience some occasional problems that are a normal part of aging. In fact, many seniors begin to experience anxiety over something like forgetting where they put their glasses or maybe they forgot to pay a bill. Is it just mild forgetfulness or is it real memory loss?

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has put together an article about what is normal and what is not normal and when it is time to see the doctor.

Mild Forgetfulness

Mild forgetfulness is often just a normal part of aging and may involve:

  • Forgetting to pay a bill
  • Making a bad decision only once in a while
  • Forgetting which day it is, but remembering later
  • Sometimes not remembering a word to use
  • Occasionally misplacing things

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Some seniors have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) where they experience more memory and thinking problems than other people their age, but still they are able to function independently. They can take care of themselves and continue with their normal routine and day-to-day activities. In some cases MCI will proceed to Alzheimer’s, but many people with MCI stay that way and do not develop dementia. The NIA recommends that seniors with MCI see their doctor every 6-12 months to see if there has been more deterioration in memory and thinking skills. However, to date there is no way to treat MCI. Some of the signs of MCI are:

  • Often losing things
  • Forgetting to keep an important appointment or attend an event
  • Finding trouble expressing themselves with the right words


Dementia is when cognitive function is lost like thinking, remembering, learning new skills and having the ability to reason. Also, there may be behavior disturbances that interfere with daily life and normal activities. Often there are more serious problems with language and communicating, visual perception and being alert and able to pay attention. Some people undergo personality changes. All-in-all, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Here are some of the things to look out for:

  • Making bad decisions and poor judgments many times
  • Having problems paying monthly bills and keeping track of finances.
  • Completely forgetting the date or time of year.
  • Misplacing things and unable to find them.

When it is Time to See the Doctor

When you or a loved one really cannot remember things that happened recently, do not seem to be able to think clearly then it is time to talk to a doctor.

The Annual Medicare Wellness Visit

The annual Medicare wellness visit includes an assessment for cognitive impairment. In order to qualify you must have had Medicare Part B insurance for at least one year.

Not all Memory Problems are from Alzheimer’s Disease

Sometimes a person is so overwhelmed from a stressful situation and they may temporarily seem like they can no longer function or remember things. They are just too preoccupied with their burden of stress. This can be from the sudden passing of a loved one, financial loss, etc. However, this will eventually clear up, whereas dementia does not go away.

Sometimes a person is sick with an infection that keeps their brain from functioning normally.

Sometimes depression is causing the problem.

Sometimes the condition can be treated, especially if it is a treatable medical condition

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease

Even if you or your loved one are showing symptoms of dementia, there are other diseases that cause dementia and this may not be Alzheimer’s disease. In fact there is a kind of dementia that can be treated and cured. Idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (iNPH) can be treated or even reversed if it is properly diagnosed. The three main symptoms are a shuffling gait, urinary incontinence and neurological signs of dementia. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also typical for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, so many people with it are misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease (PD). This is a tragedy really, because iNPH can be reversed or even cured with shunt treatment which drains off fluid that is building up in the brain causing the signs of dementia. It can be seen on a CT or MRI scan. Alzheimer’s disease can only be 100% diagnosed post mortem, although PET scans can show signs which may point to Alzheimer’s. If your loved one has signs of dementia discuss with your doctor the possibility to be tested for iNPH. Read more about this in our blog post from April 11, 2018.

The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse NY

The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse NY is a skilled nursing facility that has a memory care unit for treating people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Their team includes occupational therapists and physical therapists, skilled nurses and doctors including a neurologist.

Van Duyn also has fantastic recreational activities that include a gardening club, ceramics club and visits by pets, teens and children. Please see our blogs from May 30 and June 1, 2018 for more about occupational therapy and recreational therapy at Van Duyn.


If you or your loved one are showing signs that might be more than just occasional mild forgetfulness then it is time to see your doctor.



Leave a Comment