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Health Information Where Has My Memory Gone?

We all have lapses in memory. It's not unusual to occasionally forget where you put your keys or wallet, even where you've parked your car. But persistent memory problems may indicate something that needs to be evaluated by a doctor.

Some things that can have an impact on memory include:

  • Depression or other mental health issues
  • Chronic medical conditions like diabetes
  • Side effects from medication, including
    • Prescription medication
    • Over-the-counter medication
    • Interactions caused by taking multiple medications
  • Stroke
  • Parkinsons disease and parkinson-like symptoms
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Frontal temporal dementia
  • Alzheimer's disease

"Having your memory evaluated can often bring reassurance," says Raj C. Shah, MD, medical director of the Rush Memory Clinic. "The evaluation may show that you're doing just fine and the memory difficulties you are noticing are not due to something more serious."

"The evaluation provides an opportunity to discuss three things that may help maintain your memory abilities," Shah continues. "First, you can discuss healthy living options such as participating in activities that stimulate the mind, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. Second, medications with memory side-effects possibly can be adjusted. Finally, treatment can be optimized for medical conditions that may affect the memory."

Even if the evaluation indicates dementia, early intervention can make a significant difference in a person's quality of life. "If someone is at the mild to moderate stage of their disease, we can often provide treatment that may help him or her continuing to enjoy a favorite activity or remain independent longer," says Shah.

How do you tell the difference between memory loss that is only temporary (or that may be a normal part of aging) and memory loss that should concern you?

You should consider being evaluated if you have:

  • More frequent occurrences of memory loss, including not remembering items or having to ask for the same information multiple times
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks, such as preparing meals, using familiar appliances or participating in hobbies
  • Language difficulties, such as forgetting simple words or substituting unusual or unrelated words for forgotten words
  • Disorientation about time and place, like forgetting your address or having difficulties with simple directions
  • Poor judgment, like wearing the wrong clothes for the weather conditions
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking, like balancing a checkbook
  • Frequently misplacing items or putting things in unusual places
  • Loss of initiative, for instance, not wanting to do new activities or participate in favorite activities

"An evaluation is the first step to identifying and trying to solve the problem," says Shah. "The good news is that there are more options to help with treating memory concerns. With continuing partnerships with clinicians, researchers, and individuals with memory concerns, more treatment options hopefully will be available in the future."

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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