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Memory Loss.

Alzheimer's disease is not the only medical condition that can cause memory problems. Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that mainly leads to memory loss.

by Dr. Brent Agin, MD

Founder and CEO


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Some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, is a fairly common part of normal aging. There is a distinction between normal changes in memory and memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease and other cause of dementia and neurodegenerative disease. Some of the conditions which causes memory loss are curable and treatable.

Dementias are responsible for the greatest burden of neurodegenerative diseases, with Alzheimer’s representing approximately 60-70% of dementia cases. In general, dementia is the term for memory loss and the most common type of dementia is called Alzheimer’s disease.

Every type of dementia is a result of neurodegeneration (shrinking of the brain). Shrinking is caused by a lot of neuronal (nerve cell) death occurring throughout the brain. Because of the large number of neurons dying, people with dementia not only start losing their memories, but they eventually lose their ability to move, communicate, and even think properly.

Other early signs might include:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing words up
  • Taking longer to complete familiar and simple tasks
  • Misplacing items
  • Getting lost while walking or driving in a familiar area
  • Having changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. If you or a loved one start to become aware that memory or mental function has been progressively worsening, this could be considered MCI, but symptoms should not be severe enough to significantly interfere with your daily life and usual activities.

Some of the signs of MCI:

  • Becoming more forgetful
  • Forgetting important events such as appointments or social engagements
  • Losing train of thought or the thread of conversations, books or moviesl
  • Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or understanding instructionsl
  • Having trouble finding your way around familiar environmentsl
  • Family and friends notice changes in cognition

There is no specific test to confirm a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Your doctor will decide whether MCI is the most likely cause of your symptoms based on the information you provide and results of various tests that can help clarify the diagnosis.

Researchers and physicians are still learning about mild cognitive impairment. For many people, the condition eventually progresses to dementia due to Alzheimer's disease or another disorder causing dementia. Other people's memory loss doesn't progress much, and they don't develop the spectrum of symptoms associated with dementia.

Several medical conditions can cause memory loss or other dementia-like symptoms that can be treated. Some of the possible causes of reversible memory loss include:

  • Medications: Certain medications or a combination of medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion. Minor head trauma or injury- Post Concussive Syndrome (PCS): A head injury from a fall or accident — even if you don't lose consciousness — can cause memory loss
  • Mental Illness: Stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities. When you add medication treatments into the picture the risk for memory loss and confusion becomes even more pronounced.
  • Alcoholism: Chronic alcoholism can severely contribute to memory loss directly and indirectly through alcohol induced liver dysfunction and interaction with medications.
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency: Vitamin B-12 is essential for maintaining healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. Vitamin B-12 deficiency has been found to be the cause of several neurological conditions including memory loss.
  • Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid gland can result in forgetfulness and other thinking problems.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies can be associated with underactive thyroid, specifically the conversion of thyroxine (T4) into triodothyronine (T3).

For the treatable causes listed above you would start with treating the underlying condition. Knowing that mitochondria dysfunction and inflammation can be associated with higher risks of memory loss and forgetfulness, this provides an opportunity for helpful treatment options. Beyond traditional medical therapies there are also several research supported alternative or wellness based therapies that can have a major impact on disease treatment and prevention.

Alternative therapies work by contributing to the following:

  • Maximizing health of the nervous system
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Improving mitochondria function
  • Improving insulin sensitivity
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Reducing body fat
  • Increasing lean muscle mass
  • Improving sleep
  • Improving blood flow to the body and brain


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