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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / June 2014 / Is it Alzheimer’s? Sorting Out the Mysteries of Memory Problems

Is it Alzheimer’s? Sorting Out the Mysteries of Memory Problems

Most of us have the occasional memory slip: Where’d I park the car? How do I figure out what to tip the waiter? What did you say your name was?
Our ability to summon information or perform simple mental tasks can be impacted by many things, including stress, lack of sleep, and even an empty belly. UR Medicine expert Dr. Mark Mapstone helps sort out the difference between normal memory issues and more serious problems.
adult son with confused father
An estimated 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Cognitive problems tied to Alzheimer’s tend to emerge in later life and progress slowly—often over a number of years. This can make it difficult to distinguish Alzheimer’s from common age-related memory problems. 
Having memory problems does not mean that you have Alzheimer’s. However, if you or a loved one regularly experiences the following signs, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor: 
  • Memory problems that disrupt daily life: Regularly forgetting important dates, missing appointments, having to ask the same question over and over again, and an increased reliance on notes on the refrigerator or other memory aids.
  • Difficulty completing regular routines or tasks: Forgetting the route to the local grocery store or other familiar destinations, or having trouble balancing your checkbook, remembering a favorite recipe, or operating appliances like the microwave.  
  • Losing track of time or place: Forgetting the date, what season it is, how long it’s been since the grandchildren visited, or not remembering where you are or how you got there. 
  • Vision problems: Trouble reading, judging distances, or picking out shapes and colors, all of which may lead to difficulty with driving.
  • Problems speaking and writing: Having trouble conversing, including stopping in the middle of a thought or repeating yourself, difficulty finding the right word, or calling things by the wrong name. 
  • Losing things: Putting car keys, jewelry, and the TV remote in unusual places and then not being able to find them, and accusing others of misplacing or taking these objects.
  • Changes in judgment or decision-making: Problems managing personal finances, being more likely to fall for scams or unethical sales pitches, and paying less attention to one’s appearance and hygiene.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social situations, becoming more isolated at work, and giving up on activities usually enjoyed, such as hobbies or following a favorite sports team.
  • Mood and personality fluctuations: Becoming more confused, depressed, anxious, and suspicious at home, work, and in social situations.
If you notice these behaviors in yourself or someone you love, talk with your health care provider. He or she can work with you to determine if you should seek help from a specialist who is trained in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
Mark Mapstone, PhD
Mark Mapstone, Ph.D., is a UR Medicine neuropsychologist and an associate professor in the Department of Neurology. Dr. Mapstone is associate director of UR Medicine's Memory Care Program.


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