Sudden memory loss can be a symptom of many different illnesses, including a vitamin deficiency or a medication side effect.
But it also may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. With the holidays coming up, you may start noticing a loved one suddenly experiencing memory loss. But how can you best support them?
Learn the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, the signs your loved one is struggling with memory loss, and how to help them through each stage — especially during the holiday season.
How do Alzheimer’s disease and dementia differ?
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Dementia is a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms that can include:
- Memory loss
- Movement problems
- Language problems
- Difficulty making plans or solving problems
- Changes in mood, behavior, or personality
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. This disease causes progressive damage to the brain that eventually leads to dementia.
Other common causes of dementia include vascular dementia and lewy body dementia. Each of these types also are a result of damage to the brain that causes memory loss and other symptoms of cognitive impairment.
Sudden and severe memory loss, such as forgetting familiar names or forgetting where you are, can be a symptom of dementia. Or it could be the result of another, more simple cause, such as a medication side effect or vitamin deficiency.
That’s why taking your loved one to the doctor at the first sign of memory loss is important in finding an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias
Since dementia is progressive, experts typically break it down into three stages — early, middle, and late.
Symptoms are mild at first and gradually become more severe.
When specifically describing Alzheimer’s disease, some experts break it into as many as seven stages, including a preclinical stage where the disease is quietly causing changes in the brain with no outward symptoms.
Since the causes of dementia vary, each progresses differently. For example, vascular dementia is a result of reduced blood flow to the brain, which may be due to a stroke.
This type of dementia might progress differently than Alzheimer’s, which has a different cause.
Signs your loved one may have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia
Since dementia and Alzheimer’s affect each person differently, it is possible you may notice symptoms come on more suddenly.
It’s normal to occasionally misplace an item or forget a word, but increasing confusion and difficulty with daily tasks can indicate a more serious problem.
Early dementia symptoms that are specific to Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory problems, such as forgetting names, faces, and recent events
- Trouble finding the right words
- Trouble handling money or with numbers
- Repeatedly asking the same questions
- Trouble with organization and planning
- Confusion in unfamiliar environments
- Anxiety, depression, or withdrawing from friends and family
These symptoms indicate that your loved one is experiencing more than just the typical signs of aging.
Since each type of dementia will present itself differently in the early stages, be sure to watch for other signs of cognitive decline, such as:
- Slower physical movements
- Frequent falls
- Trouble sleeping
- Visual hallucinations
Any significant mood changes also are an indication that your loved one should visit their doctor to rule out a medical cause.
As with any illness, early intervention is key to an accurate diagnosis and treatments that can preserve quality of life for as long as possible.
What causes sudden memory loss?
The exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are still being thoroughly researched, but doctors have pinpointed some potential changes in the brain that help detect the various types of dementia.
Doctors believe Alzheimer’s disease is caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain, known as amyloid and tau. These proteins cause plaques and tangles in the brain that interfere with cell communication.
Other types of dementia also are believed to be caused by abnormal proteins. Symptoms of each type can vary depending on the location of these proteins in the brain.
Do treatments exist?
Studies are underway for treatments that could slow or halt the growth of these proteins, but in the meantime experts recommend incorporating healthy foods and lifestyle changes to boost brain health.
Eating balanced meals, exercising the brain and body, maintaining social activity, and consuming various vitamins and supplements may help with symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Rehabilitation treatments such as speech, physical, or occupational therapies also are options.
How to find a safe, secure community for your loved one
In the chaos of the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to protect our loved ones experiencing memory loss. The holidays can create additional confusion and stress on those who already may be struggling.
Be sure to communicate with your loved one prior to holiday gatherings to determine the best course of action, and ask their doctor for recommendations as needed. Help your loved one communicate their needs to the family to keep them safe and healthy.
As your loved one’s needs progress, you may decide the safest option for them is to move them to a memory care community.
The Kensington Falls Church supports those with sudden memory loss
The Kensington Falls Church is an assisted living and memory care community. We are able to provide a full spectrum of clinical support to your loved ones, which includes everything from more independent living to advanced memory care.
We have two memory care “neighborhoods” in our community — Connections and Haven. Each community is designed with your loved one’s specific needs in mind.
At The Kensington, Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. We are dedicated to the highest levels of care, comfort, and security to keep your loved ones safe, healthy, and happy.
Call us today to tell us more about your loved one’s unique needs, and hear about all the ways we can support them.