Worried about changes in your memory? It's worth a closer look

For many people, forgetfulness becomes more common with age. But even when memory is still within the normal range, slips that seem new or unusual may be early warning signs of future decline. This merits a closer look, not a panic attack, explains neuropsychologist Rebecca Amariglio in the August 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"We don't want to worry people that if they forget where their keys are they are on the path to Alzheimer's disease," says Amariglio, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, "But there is a growing appreciation we should not dismiss those concerns. It may be worth talking to a doctor and getting a baseline assessment."

Amariglio and her colleagues are exploring whether noticing and being concerned about changes in one's own memory could be used to identify people with cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment—sometimes called cognitive decline—is a catchall term that covers memory loss and worsening of basic thinking skills. It sometimes leads to dementia.

One potential warning sign that researchers have identified is finding it hard to follow a group conversation or the story in a TV show. Older adults who experience this are more likely to also show signs of cognitive impairment.

In contrast, doing things like losing your car keys but eventually remembering where they are or walking into a room and forgetting why you went there are more likely to be mostly harmless age-related forgetfulness.

A physician can do a quick cognitive check in the office or suggest more extensive testing to determine whether forgetfulness indicates a medical problem.

Read the full-length article: "Worried about your memory? Take action."