Middle-aged forgetfulness may not be dementia

Middle-aged forgetfulness may not be dementia

In the recently released movie, Still Alice, Julianne Moore portrays Alice Howland, a Harvard University linguistics professor, diagnosed at age 50 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia.

Early onset Alzheimer’s, diagnosed before the age of 65, is relatively uncommon, affecting about 200,000 of the more than 5.2 million Americans who have the disease.

If you are middle-aged and experiencing memory issues, should you immediately assume Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

Not necessarily, say experts in primary care, gerontology and neurosciences. When a younger adult – someone in their 40s, 50s or early 60s – presents with signs and symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s, more tests must be run to rule out other possibilities.

“We are in an era with many tools at our disposal to help detect and diagnose memory loss. We can run labs to see if there is deterioration of brain metabolism and function, order imaging scans to look at dysfunction and degeneration and perform testing to look for toxins and infection,” says Dr. Samuel A. Farbstein, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Still most important is our hands-on examination and follow-up visits to observe signs and behavior and to discuss symptoms with the patient and family so we can establish a diagnosis, treatment plan and goals.”

Health, an online magazine, outlines 10 disorders or lifestyle issues that affect memory:

  1. Lack of sleep
  2. Certain prescription medications (However, don’t stop taking medications prescribed by your physician. Instead, speak with your doctor if you feel your medication(s) may be affecting your memory.)
  3. Stress
  4. A dysfunctional thyroid
  5. Hot flashes
  6. Anxiety and depression
  7. Smoking
  8. A high-fat diet
  9. Higher exposure to germs and viruses, such as cold sores
  10. Vitamin B12 deficiency

Memory complaints are frequent, diagnoses of early onset Alzheimer’s are not,” Dr. Farbstein says. “Many other issues such as sleep, metabolic disease, mood issues and stress, especially in the younger individual, are much more likely to affect cognition. We want to make sure we figure out exactly what is happening, so we can go down the right road for treatment.”

Dr. Farbstein recommends seeing your health care provider if you are experiencing memory loss, including behaviors associated with such loss.

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  1. Thanks Kate for sharing this important information-may explain some of my forgetfullness…

  2. Good information! Thanks for shedding light on this important topic.

  3. Kate, you mentioned that thyroid dysfunction could contribute to memory issues.
    Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, or both?

  4. Kate Eller

    Todd: Per Health it’s both: When your thyroid’s out of whack, you may feel too hot, too cold, anxious, depressed—and your memory may also be lagging. “Although the thyroid doesn’t have a specific role in the brain, memory loss is the one thing a person notices when it stops functioning normally,” says Dr. Fotuhi. A butterfly-shaped gland that sits along the front of your windpipe, the thyroid reigns over almost all your body’s metabolic processes. “People with high or low thyroid levels—which are very common in women—may have difficulty with memory and concentration,” he says. Ask your doctor for a simple thyroid test to determine if it’s the culprit behind your memory problems.

  5. As far as problems with memory, do you mean forgetting names, events, just words, or all of the above? My grandmother, uncle and father all had Alzheimers. I know that there is a genetic link concerning this disease. I recognize, in myself, not being able to remember words. My father had this trouble also. Is this only a sign of aging or should I be concerned? I am 64 years old.

  6. Kate Eller

    Candy, I understand your concern. My suggestion would be to make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your concerns.

About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”