Isn’t it normal to have memory problems as you age?

Many people experience some kind of memory loss with aging, and to some degree, this is normal. However, many people have memory loss which is more significant and impairs their ability to function independently. Some forms of memory loss can be associated with mood changes, behavioral changes, personality changes, and even bizarre symptoms like hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which are not real) and delusions (believing something which is not real).

There are many barriers to getting proper diagnosis and treatment for memory loss. Most people find the idea of losing their memory frightening and will avoid seeking help; they are afraid of being diagnosed with dementia and losing their independence.

Primary care doctors may realize their patients have memory loss and start them on medications without fully discussing the problem with the patient, for fear the person will be angry, scared, sad, or refuse to try the medication.

People with impaired memory may also have impaired judgement which makes them more likely to skip doctors appointments or take their medications incorrectly. Perhaps the biggest barrier is that someone with memory loss may be unaware of the change, which makes diagnosis and treatment even more difficult.

Memory loss does not equal Alzheimer’s disease

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We have worked extensively with older patients with some degree of memory loss and have found that there is much misinformation in the media about Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Many people think that all memory loss equates AD, and this is not true! Some memory loss is temporary or transient and is due to medications, a mood problem, or a recent surgery or stroke. Some memory loss is related to dementia which is, unfortunately, not reversible with current treatments or medications.

There are multiple types of dementia with different clinical features. For example, Alzheimer’s dementia tends to be a slow and steady decline, while vascular dementia may proceed in jumps and plateaus. Dementia is highly unpredictable and there is much we do not understand about the different types of dementia.

Even with a complete neurological workup and brain scans, it is not always possible to make a precise diagnosis of dementia. At CPCH, our approach to treating memory loss focuses on first identifying and treating any preventable causes of memory loss; second, identifying and treating any accompanying symptoms like depression, anxiety, agitation, hallucinations, or delusions.

Our goal is to tailor each treatment plan to the individual and their lifestyle, with respect for both the patient and their families.

 

What are memory medications? Do they work?

There are few medications currently FDA-approved for use in memory loss, but there are many, many more in research trials which are likely to be on the market in the next 5 years.

Often, patients and families are more current than their doctors when it comes to memory medications and treatments! At CPCH, our mission is to stay on the cutting edge of research on memory loss and to translate this work into the best practice for our patients. We also hope to engage patients and their families in cooperative, educational dialogues about their symptoms and medications.

Often, a nonclinical psychoeducation session with a patient or family member is more helpful than a “traditional” office visit and at CPCH we are happy to offer psychoeducation sessions with anyone who is interested.

What if someone is taking too many medications?

At CPCH, we often tell people that half of our work is taking people OFF medications. As a result of multiple hospitalizations or outpatient providers, people are often taking psychotropic medications which they do not need and may be, in fact, be harmful.

If you would like to consult with one of our psychiatrists about memory loss, please give us a call at 919-636-5240 option #1 or email office@cognitive-psychiatry.com.