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Memory Loss: When is it Alzheimer's?

Image from Lancaster University.

I get a lot of questions about concerns patients and family members have about troublesome symptoms of memory loss when I am treating them for Depression and Anxiety. They wonder whether they have Alzheimer’s Disease and not Major Depression. 

This table is from the National Institute on Aging, and is very helpful to measure symptoms of typical aging-related memory loss vs. symptoms of Alzheimers: 

Memory loss—and that is short-term memory loss—is very common with Depression. Depression affects the brain in a way that impairs your short-term memory, like forgetting what you had for dinner last night, or a conversation with a friend a few days ago.

This is the key to gauging memory loss vs. more serious memory problems. When you are battling Alzheimers, your long-term memories tend to get mixed up and fade, which is why people forget family members, or how to find their way home in a familiar neighborhood.

But memory loss related to emotional problems may look similar, leaving people confused and forgetful. But these feelings shouldn't last more than a few months. Generally, if memory symptoms persist more than a few weeks, you may need counseling, medication, or both. 

It is normal for people to have some trouble with memory when they are stressed from time to time. But if it is happening every day and creating embarrassment in your life--like forgetting to pick up grandkids three days in a row--or repetitively forgetting appointments, then I would suggest you go get an evaluation from your Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. You may be depressed or anxious and could be helped with some therapy and possibly medication. 

Please don’t let this happen to you! Get help if you see some concerns with memory—particularly short-term memory.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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