When is forgetfulness something to worry about?

Larry Chambers, scientific advisor for the Alzheimer Society of Canada, sheds some light on simple mind freeze versus more serious signs of brain disease.

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Photo, Istockphoto.

Q: I’m forgetful. should I worry?
A: Mild memory lapses, like misplacing keys, are normal. Routinely grasping for words, losing track of bills and forgetting food on the stove are not. Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is persistent and slowly worsens over time, but you may not notice symptoms as clearly as friends and family. If you suspect you need help, don’t delay — half of patients wait too long to be diagnosed.

Q: What is Alzheimer’s?
A: Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a group of brain disorders that result in the loss of memory, intellectual and social skills to the point of interfering with everyday life, says the Mayo Clinic. Plaque (deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid) and tangles (twisted fibres of another protein called tau) build up in the brain and cause cells to die. Symptoms include having difficulty remembering things and making decisions, as well as changes in mood, behaviour and reasoning. Alzheimer’s is a progressive degenerative brain disease that is usually fatal just eight years after diagnosis.

Q: My mom had Alzheimer’s. will I get it too?
A: Genetics does play a role, but only a small percentage of people with Alzheimer’s have the inherited form of the disease. Age is the biggest risk factor, with the risk doubling every five years after age 65.

Q: When do symptoms start to show?
A: Most people are diagnosed after age 65, but about 5 percent have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which starts in their 40s or 50s. And changes in the brain actually begin about 17 years before symptoms appear.

Q: Is there a cure?
A: Although there is no cure, studies show that lifestyle changes (including eating well, being physically fit and not smoking) may help prevent — and slow — the progression of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. There are also drugs that can help treat the symptoms of the disease, although they can’t slow its progression.

Follow the jump for more ways to protect your brain health