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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Is Your Memory Normal?

Before you diagnose yourself with Alzheimer's disease, take heart: Experts say some memory lapses are normal.

When to See a Doctor

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that damages areas of the brain involved in memory, intelligence, judgment, language, and behavior. While there is no definitive way to pinpoint an Alzheimer's brain -- short of autopsy -- there are some diagnostic ways doctors distinguish normal memory loss from that which should raise concern. Normal forgetfulness includes:

  • Forgetting parts of an experience
  • Forgetting where you park the car
  • Forgetting events from the distant past
  • Forgetting a person's name, but remembering it later

While research shows that up to half of people over age 50 have mild forgetfulness linked to age-associated memory impairment, there are signs when more serious memory conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, are happening, including:

  • Forgetting an experience
  • Forgetting how to drive a car or read a clock
  • Forgetting recent events
  • Forgetting ever having known a particular person
  • Loss of function, confusion, or decreasing alertness
  • Symptoms become more frequent or severe

Still confused? Zola sums it up. "The kind of rule of thumb that's kind of whimsical in a sense but clinicians often use is, if you're worried about [your memory], it's probably not that serious, but if your friends and relatives are worried about it, then it probably is more serious."

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Reviewed on July 01, 2006

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