Not all memory loss is the same

Not all memory loss is the same

Have you ever misplaced an item? Or forgotten an appointment, only to remember it when it was too late?

Most of us can answer yes to these questions. But it may leave us wondering if our brains are functioning normally.

We may worry that we’re developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.

Family members of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease often say they are unsure when symptoms began. Generally, the changes are subtle.

Keep in mind:

  • Our lives move at a fast pace, and we can be distracted by the many demands on our attention.
  • All of us, from time to time, experience memory loss and forgetfulness.
  • Forgetfulness can be caused by many factors, including side effects from medication, illness, lack of sleep and stress.
  • You can develop ways to compensate for these symptoms and cue your memory, such as making lists and designating a place where you always leave common items like keys.

If you feel like your memory loss has declined beyond general forgetfulness, you could be experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

As we age, some of us may experience mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

MCI usually does not interfere with daily function in the way Alzheimer's disease does.

However, people with this condition often recognize that their mental function has declined beyond general forgetfulness.

There are two types of MCI: amnesic and non-amnesic.

  • Amnesic MCI: Amnesic MCI is more common than non-amnesic MCI. This form of cognitive impairment is characterized by memory problems. Symptoms may include forgetting about important appointments or missing events that you had planned to attend.
  • Non-amnesic MCI: Non-amnesic MCI is characterized by impaired thinking and challenges with planning, organizing or judgment. Symptoms may include having trouble making plans or problem solving.

Key facts about mild cognitive impairment

  • It can be difficult to diagnose.  
  • There is no standardized/conclusive way to know if a person has MCI.
  • The underlying cause of MCI is yet to be determined.
  • While some people with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease, others don't.
  • There is no proven treatment for MCI.
  • If you're concerned, discuss your feelings with your doctor. Be re-evaluated regularly by your doctor to determine changes in your symptoms.
Woman reading paperwork

Dementia or depression?

Maybe you are struggling more with short-term memory loss or difficulty concentrating. How do you know if it’s dementia or depression?

It’s possible to confuse depression with dementia, since depression is often misdiagnosed and both have similar symptoms.

A person who has been diagnosed with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may experience depression because of that fact alone.

Unfortunately, a single test to differentiate dementia from depression does not exist.

Dementia versus depression

Depression and dementia are not part of the normal aging process. The causes are often not well known and the symptoms are varied.

A person who has dementia and a person with depression may both exhibit memory issues and a lack of motivation, or withdraw from activities that they used to enjoy.

Is it depression?

  • Symptoms tend to progress more rapidly for individuals with depression than for those with dementia.
  • Those with depression often have difficulty with concentration. 
  • Someone with depression may be slow to respond verbally or otherwise, but he or she hasn’t lost these skills and abilities. For example, they may not answer a question because he or she doesn’t care or hasn’t been concentrating on what you asked.
  • A person with depression may know the correct day, time and place. 

Is it dementia?

  • Individuals with dementia often have issues with short-term memory loss. 
  • A person with dementia will often have trouble with providing detailed or specific answers. For example, they will tend to give a "near-miss" or a vague answer to a question.
  • A person with dementia is more likely to experience a decline related to the ability to write, speak or use motor skills as the disease progresses.
  • Someone with dementia can become disoriented, confused and lost in a familiar location.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms that you believe may be related to depression or dementia, it is best to consult a doctor for a professional diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.

Learn more about dementia

Along with consulting with your doctor, consider your spiritual and emotional health. Pastors and other clergy may help provide much-needed spiritual support to both the individual who is experiencing symptoms of dementia and/or depression and their family. And counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists may help with mental and emotional support.

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