You go downstairs to grab something but forget what you were after.
Your friend is talking to you in a loud room, and you just can’t pay attention!
You lost your phone, keys, or glasses and must retrace your steps to find them.
Should you be worried that these are signs of early onset dementia or are these signs of normal aging?
Changes in mental abilities can be alarming, but they may not be cause for concern. Read on to see if the changes you notice in yourself or a loved one are normal or reason to worry.
Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment
Changes in mental ability become noticeable in mid-life, ages 40 and up. Forgetfulness, distraction, misplacing things, or taking longer to complete tasks are normal signs of aging. But forgetting appointments or events, being unable to follow a conversation, finding misplaced items in odd places, or being unable to complete new tasks (like using a new appliance) may be signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Your risk of MCI is higher if you have chronic issues like diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, or have had a stroke. Smoking, drinking alcohol, high blood pressure, obesity, poor diet, and lack of physical activity also increase your risk of MCI.
Having MCI does not mean you’ll develop Alzheimer’s, but it’s a good reason to see your doctor so you both can track changes, watch for other signs of concern, and implement interventions like changes in diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes that reduce your risks of developing Alzheimer’s.
Factors that Cause Cognitive Issues
Whether you feel like your mental slips are normal or cause for concern, it’s worth considering factors other than aging that can cause cognitive impairment. These include:
- Hearing loss
- Lack of sleep
- Vision problems
- Thyroid problems
- Cancer treatment
- Hormone changes
- Asthma or allergies
- Medication side effects
- Head injury or concussion
- Changes in blood sugar levels
- Low levels of vitamin B12 or other nutrients
Most of these factors can be fixed or reduced and improvements may be rapid. For example, a brain deprived of proper sleep (7-9 hours a night) might have a myriad of issues including lack of focus and concentration, poor memory, impaired judgement, and mood swings. While it may take a few days or even weeks to recover from sleep deprivation, you can recover and restore optimal cognitive functioning!
To alleviate other issues that affect cognitive functioning and mood, talk to your health care provider.
If you'd like more tips on reducing your risks and a link to a free memory test with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America in this article.