Due to prevalence of the syndrome amongst the mature population, the question begs, “Is losing things a sign of dementia?” While forgetfulness is an early symptom, losing things doesn’t necessarily mean a person has dementia. Read on to learn more…
Is something wrong with me?
Forgetting things from time to time, like where you put your glasses, is a normal part of life. For example, we may lose our car keys or forget where we left the dog leash. Many people ask, “Does this mean I have dementia?” This is a natural question. It is never a good idea to jump to medical conclusions. There are many causes for bouts of forgetfulness. If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing atypical memory loss, meaning that it is increasing, beginning to interfere with daily life, or is accompanied by other symptoms like personality changes or poor judgement, do seek prompt medical evaluation.
Now where did I put my glasses?
For many, the act of forgetting things is not only frustrating, but understandably concerning. However, losing things occasionally is normal and there are generally causes. For example, a person who is distracted by a ringing cellphone might not pay attention to where they left their glasses. However, feeling confused, repeatedly forgetting things, putting things in strange places, being unable to trace one’s steps to find things, or experiencing suspicion that people are stealing could indicate dementia or point to other serious conditions requiring medical attention.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not one specific disease. It is a catch-all phrase for changes in the brain that lead to loss of function. Most often, dementia occurs when brain nerve cells die and connections between them are interrupted. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Per Alzheimer’s Association, an organization leading the way to end the disease, an estimated 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2023.
Dementia on the rise
Researchers with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine report that global dementia cases are on the rise and are forecasted to triple by 2050. Though it is possible that lifestyle intervention may slow or decrease some dementia cases, forecasted numbers remain high due to increases of the aging population and current lack of cure for dementia.
Does age cause dementia?
While age does not cause dementia, the risks of developing dementia increase with age. Important to know: Dementia is different than a modest decline in memory due to age. Examples of the latter include the inability to quickly recall a book title or occasionally forgetting a password. Nevertheless, should moments of forgetfulness increase or begin to interfere with daily tasks, promptly report that to a physician. People should strive to live healthy lifestyles to help reduce some risks associated with developing dementia.
What forgetfulness is considered normal?
“Normal” forgetfulness – For our purposes we will use the word “normal” to refer to non-concerning memory loss.
There are many causes of “normal” forgetfulness, and it is not necessarily age specific. A young child who is tired may misplace a shoe. A middle-aged business owner with a hectic work agenda might miss an appointment. Or a busy parent who is interrupted by a crying child might fail to put the milk back into the refrigerator. These bouts of forgetfulness can be explained. In the first case, the child is exhausted. In the second example, the business owner is overscheduled. And, in the third, the busy parent is distracted. None of the above are deeply concerning as the causes are understandable. Additionally, these situations are likely fixable going forward with adequate sleep, increased organizational skills, and improved concentration.
What is considered serious?
Serious memory loss may indicate the presence of a medical syndrome such as dementia. As previously explained, age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing dementia. The condition mainly affects people aged 65 and older, with some younger exceptions. Dementia is a serious condition as memory loss and other challenges associated with the condition interfere with daily life. While there are some treatments to help delay or deal with symptoms of mental decline and/or behavioral symptoms in patients diagnosed with dementia, medical scientists continue to race for a cure.
Here are some experiences associated with dementia:
- Difficulty performing simple and familiar tasks
- Confusion and inability to follow directions or learn new information
- Getting lost or feeling disoriented in places typically frequented
- Misusing or jumbling words
- Retelling stories or repeating phrases
- Inability to recognize familiar people
- Inability to recall incidents of forgetfulness
- Fabrication of memories
- Demonstrating poor judgement or inappropriate behavior
Knowing the difference
“Is losing things a sign of dementia?” A person who occasionally misplaces their car keys is likely experiencing basic forgetfulness or a modest decline in memory due to age. A person who forgets what their car keys are for demonstrates serious memory loss. This “extreme” example serves to distinguish between the two, with serious memory impairment being much more concerning and likely related to dementia or another serious condition. The onset of serious memory loss can occur in stages. Initially, it may be hard to distinguish between “normal” forgetfulness and more severe conditions. It bears repeating, do not attempt to self-diagnose. Concerning cases of memory loss, especially those which increase, impact daily living, or overlap with other symptoms, should be medically addressed. Additionally, adults of mature ages should visit their doctors annually for complete medical care to include memory evaluation.
This article is not medically reviewed. It is purely informational and is not intended as a medical resource or substitute for medical advice.