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When to See a Physician About Memory Loss

What Did You Forget Today?

We’ve all heard these before: “I’m having a senior moment,” “It’s nothing, I’m just getting older,” and “I’ve been so forgetful lately.” You may have even said them yourself once or twice.

But if you or a loved one has started using these excuses for forgetfulness, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a geriatrician or neurologist, says Lee Lindquist, MD, MPH, MBA, associate chief of the Division of Geriatrics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Geriatricians are internal medicine specialists who have extra years of training in senior health issues, including memory loss. These providers can offer comprehensive evaluations to help determine whether people are aging normally or need additional interventions to slow cognitive declines.

“So many patients resist coming to the doctor about memory loss, especially when others are concerned,” says Dr. Lindquist. “I always tell my patients they can prove their loved ones wrong by testing perfectly on the memory testing.”

When Is Memory Loss Normal?

Memory loss and some cognitive changes can be completely normal components of aging.

Forgetting where you put your keys, for instance, is completely normal. Everyone does it, and older individuals may do it more frequently. It’s no reason for concern, Dr. Lindquist says. However, if you forget your keys because you’ve forgotten that you have a car, that’s cause for concern and a definite reason to schedule an appointment with your physician.

Other memory lapses that may indicate a problem include difficulty reconciling a bank account or paying bills on time, or forgetting to eat or buy groceries.

“Memory recall can take longer with age, and that’s completely normal,” says Dr. Lindquist. She says when memories don’t come back at all, it’s time to talk to your physician. Geriatricians and neurologists in particular have a sound understanding of what is normal aging and what are signs of more problematic memory loss. And, they have a series of tests that can help lead to either a diagnosis or the peace of mind that you’re aging completely normally.

Better (or Worse) With Age

It’s an unavoidable reality that changes in thinking and processing occur with older age. Some aspects of these functions actually get better with age, such as vocabulary and the ability to tell stories.

But others get worse. These include processing of complex concepts and amount of time to recall trivial information. A common example is names of acquaintances. You might not remember a name of someone you bump into at the grocery store, but it will eventually come back to you, even if it’s not until you get home.

However, Dr. Lindquist says, memory loss does not need to be blamed on old age. If you or your loved ones have concerns, she recommends scheduling an appointment with a physician.

“Seniors should do themselves a service and have their memory concerns checked out instead of trying to hide it,” Dr. Lindquist explains. “The simple reason: Geriatricians can do things that can help a senior’s future.”