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Memory Loss in Seniors – Is it Alzheimer’s?

Many people wrongly assume that memory loss and confusion, when occurring at higher age, are always linked to Alzheimer’s. Although these are some of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, they are not exclusively related to it. Other common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include decline in mental ability, depression, mood swings, social withdrawal, anxiety, irritability and delusions. However, there are many possible causes of these symptoms besides Alzheimer’s. For instance, depressive and other emotional disorders can result in memory impairment (often related to attention/concentration problems) and anxiety. Therefore, appropriate diagnosis is very important.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia (a disorder characterized by multiple problems in mental functioning). Long-term alcoholism can result in dementia as can transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or “mini-strokes”), tumors or brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, infectious diseases (such as syphilis or AIDS), endocrine disorders (such as hypoglycaemia or hypothyroidism), Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease, multiple sclerosis, vitamin deficiencies as well as other conditions. Alzheimer’s is, however, the most common form of dementia. Some forms of dementia (or conditions causing the dementia) respond to treatments, while others are essentially incurable, although medications and other interventions may slow or ease their course. At this moment no cure for Alzheimer’s disease exists.

A medical examination by a physician, including appropriate laboratory tests and imaging such as CT scans or MRIs, can determine whether the patient exhibiting the aforementioned symptoms has a physical or medical condition resulting in dementia. However, a medical examination alone cannot determine whether memory loss is caused by a dementia rather than a depressive disorder or other emotional or psychological condition. A neuropsychological evaluation performed by a psychologist is the best way to do that.

So, the first step should be to see a psychologist for a neuropsychological evaluation. If the psychologist determines that the patient’s behavioural changes are related to depression or another psychological condition, he or she can propose treatment options such as therapy or counseling or medication. If the psychologist believes the patient has a type of dementia, he or she can then follow through with a physical examination. In that case, the psychologist can still continue to work with the patient regarding treatment planning.

Where to Get More Information:
National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer’s Association