Recognizing the Signs of Memory Loss

Posted by Kristin A. Hughes, JD | Sep 03, 2021

This is an excerpt from LATCHES Magazine OCBA October 2020 Number 632. 
FEMALE FIDUCIARY PANEL PRESENTS: Key Considerations for Diminished Capacity and Downsizing

Recognizing the Signs of Memory Loss

By Kristin A. Hughes

Estate Planning Attorney and Alzheimer's Association Board Member

Elder care issues can come fast and furious due to declining health and increased needs of seniors. This article pools expert advice for clients and their families navigating this complex stage of their loved one's life.

Aging, dementia, Alzheimer's, and memory loss are all words that tend to spark anx­iety and fear in individuals. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with dementia (estimated to be 14 million by 2050 ). It can be daunting to think that in­evitably one day, these words may become your reality. While certainly daunting, it is important to emphasize that there is a dif­ferent perspective, one of hope and quality of life where a plan is implemented and a community of experts is available to assist during these transitioning life cycles.

Dementia is the umbrella term for a person's decline in memory and other cognitive abilities. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging and worsens over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but as Alzheimer's progress­es, symptoms can become severe where individuals lose the ability to talk, eat, and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's has no prevention or cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. 

Understanding the signs of Alzheimer's and knowing what to do when these signs appear is the first step in unwinding the fear of the unknown. In collaboration with experts in the field, the Alzheimer's Association has created a list of warning signs to help people identify symptoms that may be related to Alzheimer's or other dementia. While it is common to experi­ence some issues with memory, thinking, and behavior as we age, there are signs that help differentiate normal forgetfulness (or stubbornness) from a more serious progres­sive brain disease. 


  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life 
  2. Challenges in planning or solving prob­lems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps 
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activ­ities 
  10. Changes in mood or personality

It is possible for individuals to experi­ence one or more of these signs in varying degrees and at varying intervals. Noticing these signs can be challenging since it is natural to feel uncertain or nervous about voicing your concerns with your loved one. However, it is important that you do so. Stigma surrounding this disease causes more harm than good and exists, in part, due to the lack of public awareness and understanding. Knowledge is power; there are many benefits to receiving an early and accurate diagnosis, including the opportu­nity to plan for the future, access support services, and explore medication that may address some symptoms for a time.

If you notice changes in loved ones, the steps below can help you feel more confident as you assess the situation and take action. 

  • Know the top 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's.
  • Are there any health or lifestyle issues that could be a factor?
  • Ask another family member or friend if they have noticed changes.
  • Have the conversation as soon as possible. 
  • If needed, have multiple conversations. The first conversation may not be suc­cessful. Some people attribute problems with memory, thinking, or behavior to stress or normal aging and may not take your concerns seriously. Consider the location, day, and time; what worked well and what didn't; who was involved; the end result; and what could be done differently the next time.
  • Discuss seeing a doctor together. Many conditions can cause memory loss or affect thinking and behavior, so it's im­portant to get a full medical evaluation. If the cause isn't Alzheimer's or another dementia, it could be a treatable condition.
  • Contact an attorney knowledgeable in the field of probate and estate planning.
  • Turn to the Alzheimer's Association for information and support.

About the Author

Kristin A. Hughes, JD

ATTORNEY & COUNSELOR AT LAW | Kristin is one of those people with the gift for bringing people together. Dedicated to helping families through life transitions and challenges, Kristin and her team find solutions. She concentrates her practice in the areas of estate planning, guardianships and conservatorships, elder law, and probate and trust administration. Kristin received her BA from Michigan State, JD from U of D Mercy.  Never one to sit on the sidelines, this mother of three, took up ice hockey and horseback riding in her 30's. 

Never doubt that a group of thoughtful people can be called to action and provide a change in the continuum of care.


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