It is not unusual to occasionally forget where you put your keys or glasses, where you parked your car, or the name of an acquaintance. As you age, it may take you longer to remember things. Not all older adults have memory changes, but they can be a normal part of aging. This type of memory problem is more often annoying than serious.
Memory loss that begins suddenly or that significantly interferes with your ability to function in daily life may mean a more serious problem is present.
Confusion or decreased alertness may be the first symptom of a serious illness, particularly in older adults. Health problems that cause confusion or decreased alertness can include:
Alcohol and many prescription and non-prescription medicines can cause confusion or decreased alertness. These problems may develop from:
Other causes of confusion or decreased alertness can include:
Conditions in the environment that can cause changes in the level of consciousness include:
Many times other symptoms are present, such as a fever, chest pain, or the inability to walk or stand. It is important to look for and tell your doctor about other symptoms you experience when confusion or decreased alertness occurs. This can help your doctor determine the cause of your symptoms.
A decrease in alertness may progress to loss of consciousness. A person who loses consciousness is not awake and is not aware of his or her surroundings. Fainting (syncope) is a form of brief unconsciousness. Coma is a deep, prolonged state of unconsciousness.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
As you age, it is normal to experience some memory lapses. Usually, an occasional memory lapse does not mean you have a serious problem. Try these steps to help improve your memory:
Ginkgo biloba is a popular herbal treatment for memory problems. But studies have not shown that ginkgo biloba helps improve memory or prevent dementia.1 Before you use any treatment for a memory problem, discuss the potential risks and benefits of the treatment with your doctor.
Living with a family member who has a decline in memory, problem-solving ability, learning ability, or judgment (dementia) is hard. To ensure your family member's health and safety, give him or her short instructions when teaching a new task. Break the task down into simple steps. You may find it helpful to give the person written instructions.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
You can sometimes reduce the impact of age-related memory problems. The saying "use it or lose it" applies to your memory. Your best defence against a memory problem is to stay healthy and fit.
Prevent accidents and injuries that might lead to memory problems.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Last Revised||March 18, 2011|
Last Revised: March 18, 2012
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.