Memory Problems & Dementia

Mature woman holding her hand to her head. She appears confused from memory issues.

What are Memory Problems and Dementia?

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Everyone misplaces car keys or eyeglasses from time to time. It’s even common to miss a bill payment every now and then. When these occurrences are rare, there’s really no concern — we all have minor memory glitches like these every now and then.

However, when memory problems become more regular or your ability to think becomes more difficult, you may be seeing signs of early dementia or other memory problems. Dementia is the broad term we use to describe a set of progressively deteriorating diseases affecting brain function and memory loss. Other functional areas affected by dementia include mood, language, movement, and personality.

A lonely man is sitting on the bed. Representing someone with memory and dementia issues.

Who Suffers from Memory Issues?

While memory problems are usually uncommon in people under the age of 60, young-onset dementia can affect people beginning around age 45. As age increases, so does the likelihood of developing a more severe memory issue, with about one in five senior adults affected with dementia by the age of 85. Currently, about 55 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with some form of dementia. Currently, dementia is the 7th leading cause of death, killing more than 1.6 million people every year.

What Causes Dementia?

It is important to understand that memory loss is not normal at any age. There is a distinct difference between occasional forgetfulness and clinical dementia, which progressively worsens over time. Numerous factors contribute to memory problems and dementia.

Most commonly, dementia is caused by one of the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (caused by irregularities in the nerves connecting brain cells)
  • Vascular dementia (caused by stroke or blood vessel blockage in the brain)
  • Fronto-temporal dementia (occurring in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes)

Several other factors may come into play when dementia is a concern. Lifestyle choices and genes may contribute toward a dementia diagnosis. These components may include:

  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia
  • Poor dietary habits / obesity
  • Alcohol use
  • Diabetes
  • Traumatic brain injury / concussions
Senior man and his middle aged daughter smiling at each other embracing, close up. Portrait of a daughter holding her elderly father, sitting on a bed by a window in her father's room.

What Symptoms are Associated with Dementia and Memory Problems?

Certain forms of dementia present differently in the brain, which we will discuss separately. However, some broad symptoms of dementia include:

  • Short term memory loss (forgetting what happened moments ago or in recent days)
  • Sudden and arbitrary pauses in thinking, speaking, or moving
  • Inability to complete common or habitual tasks
  • Putting items in unusual places
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increasing mistakes at work or at home

As symptoms develop and increase with the onset of dementia, all areas of life may be affected. Untreated, memory problems and dementia can lead to:

  • Failed relationships
  • Low performance at work or school
  • Decreased communication skills
  • Diminished ability to live independently
  • Behavioral challenges and personality changes
  • Reduced personal hygiene and self care

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects about 6.5 million people in the U.S. alone and accounts for approximately 70 percent of all diagnosed memory problems. Estimates predict that the number of cases of Alzheimer’s will double by 2050.

Alzheimer’s results from a build up of plaques between brain cells, interfering with neuron communications inside the brain. Inside these neurons, abnormal proteins become tangled and complicate transmissions. Typically, Alzheimer’s patients present low activity in the posterior cingulate gyrus as well as the temporal and parietal lobes. As the disease progresses, activity decreases in other areas of the brain.

Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulties in completing habitual tasks
  • Trouble with math and numerical concepts
  • Growing disoriented and/or lost in familiar locations
  • Disorientation when navigating dates and times
  • Finding vocabulary and conversations challenging to follow


What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular dementia results from blockages in blood vessels and reduced blood flow to the brain. Approximately 10 percent of dementia patients are affected with vascular dementia. The vascular deficiencies that cause this form of dementia can result from a number of sources including stroke, “mini strokes” (aka TIAs), and other contributing factors such as diet and lifestyle choices.

Common Symptoms of Vascular Dementia:

  • Unstable motion and/or walking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Growing confused easily
  • Declining memory function
  • Incontinence


What is Frontal-Temporal Lobe Dementia?

Frontal-temporal lobe dementia is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the frontal and temporal lobes. This disease represents approximately five percent of diagnosed dementia. The decreased blood flow and low activity in these critical brain sectors result in flawed behavior, memory, thinking, and language comprehension.

Cases of frontal-temporal lobe dementia usually begin at younger ages, most often in the 45-60 age range. This condition shares some symptoms with late-onset bipolar disorder and can be misdiagnosed. As with all brain function concerns, it is important to receive a thorough evaluation for a proper diagnosis to ensure any prescribed treatment is appropriate.

Common Symptoms of Frontal-Temporal Lobe Dementia:

  • Loss of impulse control
  • Changes in personality
  • Lethargic attitude
  • Difficulty with language or speaking
  • Inappropriate conduct
  • Compulsive behavior


What is Pseudodementia?

To complicate matters, dementia shares symptoms with multiple other disorders; and there can be challenges identifying the true condition. Pseudodementia occurs when a patient has a disorder other than dementia but has symptoms closely resembling those found in dementia patients. As an example, depression fits this category as both depression and dementia can result in apathy and behavioral changes.

The best first step in any treatment is an accurate diagnosis. Without a proper diagnosis, the disease will not be treated properly, and conditions may accelerate in a negative pattern until the treatment is corrected.

Daughter holder her mother's hands.

How do you Treat Dementia?

Sadly, there is no cure for dementia or related memory problems. The treatment options that are available exist to stabilize a patient and slow the progress of the disease.

Several forms of therapy have shown progress in stabilizing and helping dementia patients and their families deal with this condition. Cognitive stimulant therapy makes use of a group setting to discuss common areas of enjoyment and/or participate in activities that can stimulate the brain. Reminiscence therapy brings items from the patient’s past to the present. Music, movies, and experiences from earlier in life can renew memories and stimulate recall. Reality orientation training reviews basic information to help reinforce memory. Items such as name, address, and dates are repeated to help the patient internalize these important pieces of information.

Some medications can serve to help patients coping with dementia. However, as noted above, it is imperative to receive a proper diagnosis to find the right medications for dementia – or any other condition. Improper medications can make conditions worse. Please ensure your clinician is properly educated and licensed to prescribe medications that treat your condition.

Act Now – Don’t Wait

Because dementia is a progressive disease, conditions will only worsen until a cure is found. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia, we encourage you to seek assistance now so that immediate steps can be taken to help slow the progress of the disease.

At Bridgepoint Clinic, we want to ensure you keep your memories — and continue to make new ones with your loved ones as long as possible. We look forward to helping you make the most of your time with friends and family.

Visit Our Resources Page

Bridgepoint encourages clinicians, patients, and their loved ones to research new methodologies and techniques to improve mental health and wellbeing. To assist with your own learning, we’ve put together a variety of resources on a variety of topics – including genomics – to help you on your mental health journey.

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Dad always knows the answer