Memory Loss: Age related vs Alzheimer's Disease

More than 50% of people over 50 years old complain of memory loss.

These memory lapses are not all related to Alzheimer's disease.

Differential Diagnosis

It may be very difficult to distinguish early stages of Alzheimer's disease from other conditions associated with cognitive changes. These include:
  • Other forms of dementia (e.g. Lewy Body Dementia, Pick's Disease, vascular dementia)
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines)
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Mood disorders (e.g. Depression, schizophrenia)
  • Acute confusion (e.g. amnesia, after head injury, )
  • Infections (e.g. Neurosyphilis, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease)
  • AIDS-dementia complex
  • Brain tumour
  • Alcoholism
  • Huntington's Disease

Forgetfulness vs Alzheimer's Disease

It is very common to forget simple things and you should not be alarmed by these benign occurrences. However, it is important to notice features that you would not expect with simple age related memory loss. Some examples are:

  • Storing common objects in absurd places (e.g. key or handbag in the refrigerator)
  • Losing the notion of time constantly, not knowing the day or month
  • Forgetting the way to use words, forgetting very common words, and using words which do not have any meaning in a sentence.
  • Asking the same question repeatedly
  • Forgetting recent events: dinners, meetings, children
  • Forgetting something that was said two minutes earlier
  • Difficulty in remembering learned information, even with hints
  • Behavioural problems and sudden mood swings
  • Not able to recognise people, even your close relatives
  • Unaware of your own memory loss
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