Why did I come into this room? And other questions about memory

By Laura Engleman, M.A.
UCCS Aging Center Program Director

Memory—or lack thereof—is one of the most common concerns among older adults. You lose your keys, you misplace your glasses, you walk into the kitchen and forget what you were looking for, you know that actor’s name but can’t quite retrieve it (“tip-of-the-tongue” moments).  Are these symptoms normal? When should you be worried?

Fluctuations in cognition can happen at any age, particularly if you are tired, hungry, stressed, emotional, not paying attention, or under time pressure. Older adults, however, exhibit slower processing speed and some memory loss as cognitive abilities begin to decline. Recognizing these changes is, in fact, a good sign that what you are experiencing is typical. It is normal to

  • forget where you parked your car (but abnormal to forget that you own a car);
  • forget what you ate for breakfast a couple of days ago (but abnormal to forget what you ate 10 minutes ago);
  • forget your keys (but abnormal to forget what keys are for);
  • momentarily be disoriented in a new location (but abnormal to get lost in your own home).

Symptoms that are cause for concern disrupt daily life. They include changes in judgement, planning, and problem-solving; confusion with time and place; problems speaking and writing; misplacing objects in unusual places (such as putting your glasses in the refrigerator); social withdrawal; and changes in mood and personality.

Adults with worrisome memory lapses may become lost in their own neighborhood, have difficulty recalling personal information (such as their address, phone number, and names of their children), ask the same questions multiple times in the same day, and exhibit risky behaviors (such as leaving the stove on). These problems can put older adults at risk of phone scams, financial abuse, social isolation, depression, and anxiety.

It is important to rule out medical problems that can cause reversible memory loss, such as certain medications, a head injury, emotional disorders, alcoholism, vitamin B-12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, and brain diseases. A relatively brief cognitive screen also can determine if memory or thinking difficulties are typical or might signal a more serious problem.

The Memory Clinic at the UCCS Aging Center provides screenings for adults 55+ on a sliding fee scale. Trained student clinicians, supervised by licensed psychologists, conduct a 45- to 60-minute assessment plus feedback, including a review of the results and recommendations for additional services and resources. Many adults seek a memory screen before they experience problems, to obtain a baseline for comparison in later years.

To make an appointment for a Memory Clinic, call the UCCS Aging Center at 719-255-8002. For more information, visit the Aging Center’s website at www.uccs.edu/agingcenter.

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