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Early Stage Symptom: Memory Loss

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may experience a variety of symptoms that seem like normal aging, at first. As you experience these things more and more, you or your close family members or co-workers might suspect there might be something else going on. One of these symptoms is memory loss.

It can be hard in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s to differentiate between regular memory problems of aging and the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. If the memory problems and loss persist, a thorough medical examination and neurological workup should be done to determine what issues may be causing memory problems and memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease.

When should you start worrying about memory loss?

The occasional forgetting of a name or plans is typically nothing to worry about, but when the forgetting becomes chronic, or if you forget that you forgot, that might be something to see your doctor about. It’s normal for many people with dementia to forget recent events, but be able to remember things that happened a long time ago.1 Repeating questions a lot of the time, forgetting things that have just been told to you, or forgetting how to go somewhere are all signs that something more serious might be happening. If it affects your daily life, that’s a red flag that this is not typical age-related memory loss.2

You might also be noticing other symptoms that accompany the memory loss, like trouble with tasks at work that you used to do with ease, or trouble learning new things.

Seeing a doctor about memory loss

If you’re noticing these symptoms and haven’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, get a thorough medical workup to evaluate what might be going on. Many things can cause memory loss and other symptoms that are similar to those of Alzheimer’s, including brain tumors, blood clots in the brain, excessive alcohol consumption, medication side effects, malnutrition (especially a lack of B12), and more.3 If Alzheimer’s is suspected, they might do some cognitive testing or brain imaging, so that the most appropriate treatment can be given.

Treatment for memory loss

There are no treatments that cure Alzheimer’s disease or even stop its progression, but there are a variety of treatments that can help minimize and reduce symptoms. There are several medications that can be used in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to address memory loss; these drugs are called cholinesterase inhibitors.4 They include donepezil (brand name Aricept), rivastigmine (brand name Exelon), and galantamine (brand name Razadyne). These drugs work on chemical messengers in the brain to help foster communication between nerve cells and promote cell communication, thus reducing memory loss symptoms for a time.4 They are generally well-tolerated and may be worth asking your doctor about.

Knowing the differences between age-related memory problems and memory problems that might signal something more serious is helpful. The earlier an accurate diagnosis is made, the sooner you can begin treatment. Early treatment can make a difference in managing symptoms and improving quality of life. If you suspect your memory loss might be something more serious than general aging, talk with your doctor about your symptoms and ask for a thorough check-up or a referral to a memory disorders specialist.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Just Forgetful, or Is It Dementia? 2019. https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/diagnosis/just-forgetful-or-is-it-dementia/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItKP0vcTS4QIVCLbICh09ZQbREAAYAiAAEgKNRPD_BwE Accessed April 15, 2019.
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs Accessed April 15, 2019.
  3. National Institute on Aging. Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer’s Disease? 2018. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/do-memory-problems-always-mean-alzheimers-disease Accessed April 15, 2019.
  4. Alzheimer’s Association. Medications for Memory. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/treatments/medications-for-memory Accessed April 15, 2019.