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When Are Occasional Memory Lapses Cause for Worry?

A lot of us have memory lapses. We walk into a room and forget why. We can’t remember where we parked the car. These lapses can be thought of as “normal” or “everyday” forgetfulness.

Is this something we should be concerned about? Most likely, no. However, we should all be familiar with signs that may indicate that what we’re experiencing is more than what we would typically expect to see with normal aging. 


Mild Cognitive Impairment

Some people develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People who have MCI can still take care of themselves and do their normal activities, but they may:

  • Lose things often.
  • Forget appointments or events.
  • Have more trouble than their peers coming up with words.

If you have concerns about your memory or thinking skills, your health care clinician can review and discuss potential causes. Some medications or other health conditions can cause these problems. Your clinician may recommend a neuropsychological evaluation to determine if there are clinically meaningful changes in your cognitive functioning.

Another note about MCI: It can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Evaluation with a primary care clinician, neurologist, or neuropsychologist can be helpful in diagnosing MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that affects a person’s cognitive functioning, and, eventually, their ability to do routine daily activities.

It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. It typically starts after age 65, and risk increases with age. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease appear to be sporadic; however, having a first-degree relative with the disease increases your risk for developing it. Alzheimer’s disease starts slowly. It begins by affecting the parts of your brain that are involved in memory. Every person with Alzheimer’s disease may display symptoms differently, but here are some common early signs of Alzheimer’s:

  • Trouble remembering recent conversations or events.
  • Difficulty remembering names of acquaintances.
  • Repeatedly asking for the same information.
  • Difficulty with problem solving at work or home.
  • Apathy and depression.

As the disease progress, the person may:

  • Struggle to do routine tasks such as combing hair or brushing teeth.
  • Not recognize family members.
  • Become easily agitated or angry.
  • Wander away from home.


Eventually, the person may need constant care.

At this time, there is no treatment to stop the disease. We do, however, have medications that may help temporarily slow the progression of symptoms.

A health care clinician can discuss treatment options. If Alzheimer’s disease is suspected, the clinician may refer the patient to a specialist such as a neurologist who focuses on disorders of the brain and nervous system. A referral to a neuropsychologist, a psychologist who specializes in brain-behavior relationships, may also be helpful. Aurora also has geriatricians who can evaluate and treat cognitive changes, as well as Memory Clinics for older adults where we can assess for cognitive decline and connect patients and family members with a variety of helpful resources.

If you need help to find a doctor, you can locate a primary care provider or specialist online. You can make an appointment online, too.

Meet the Author

Nichelle D. Rothong, PHD is a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychological evaluation at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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