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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Problems with memory, judgment, or problem solving

Adults of all ages occasionally forget where they put their keys or glasses, where they parked their car, or the name of an acquaintance. Older adults may take longer to retrieve memories. Although this is a normal part of aging, not all older adults experience memory changes. This type of memory problem is more often annoying than serious.

Memory loss that begins suddenly or that significantly interferes with daily life may indicate a more serious problem.

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Caring for a Parent with Alzheimer's: One Woman's Story

I didn't know anything about Alzheimer's before my mother and my stepfather developed it at roughly the same time in the spring of 2005. I was living outside of Portland, Oregon; they were living in Mission, Texas. They were 86 and 84, respectively. I had tried to talk them into moving to an assisted-living community in Portland previously, but they always said they were doing fine. So I was surprised when my mother called one morning out of the blue and said, "We need help." My husband and...

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  • Dementia is a general decline in a person's mental abilities that is severe enough to interfere with daily living and activities. It affects memory, problem solving, learning, and other mental functions. It may occur over several weeks to several months. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults.
  • Delirium (acute confusional state) is a sudden change in a person's mental status, leading to confusion and unusual behavior. Symptoms of delirium usually develop over the course of several hours to a few days and may fluctuate.
  • Amnesia is memory loss that may be caused by a head injury, a stroke, substance abuse, or a severe emotional event, such as combat or a motor vehicle accident. Depending upon the cause, amnesia may be either temporary or permanent.

Treatment depends on the cause of symptoms. A health professional can evaluate symptoms and recommend treatment.

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Updated January 13, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 13, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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