We have all had the experience of walking into a room and forgetting why we entered, or not being able to retrieve information “on the tip of the tongue.” For most people, occasional lapses in memory are a normal part of the aging process, not a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia. But when memory loss affects your ability to function, it is time to start paying attention.

The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling. The memory lapses have little impact on your daily performance and ability to do what you want to do.

Dementia, on the other hand, is marked by a persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, language, judgment, and abstract thinking. When memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts your work, hobbies, social activities and family relationships, you may be experiencing the warning signs of a disorder that causes dementia, or a condition that mimics dementia.

The first step is getting more information by participating in a memory screening which serves as an indicator that something is amiss with short-term memory and other brain functions.

Symptoms of dementia include difficulty performing simple tasks (for example, paying bills, or dressing appropriately); getting lost or disoriented even in familiar place; and the inability to follow directions. Some other concerning signs are when words are frequently misused or garbled; or phrases and stories are repeated in same the conversation.

Memory screenings can help people who are worried about memory loss and cognition. In partnership with Family Means, free memory screenings will be available at Community Thread on Friday, February 12 from noon to 3:00pm. Each memory screening consists of a brief series of questions and takes about 15 minutes. Licensed social workers will administer a brief, confidential screening using a standard assessment tool called the Mini-Cog.

The screening itself takes only about 5 minutes. The rest of the time is for explaining the results, recommending follow-up actions if needed, and providing participants with information that can be shared with their physician to establish a baseline or determine if a full evaluation is needed. If a participant does not pass the Mini-Cog, their physician should determine if an underlying medical condition, for example thyroid disease, adverse drug interaction, or a vitamin B12 deficiency, could be causing the memory issues. If these and other conditions are ruled out, then the physician, patient and family decide how to best follow up with further testing.

With our aging population, we need to anticipate a growing number of our neighbors affected by cognitive decline. Memory screenings provide an opportunity to educate people about the early signs of memory loss and dementia, encourage them to seek early diagnosis, and empower them to use services to support them on their journey.

So when your “senior moment” goes from being mildly annoying to disrupting your life or your relationships, it is time to get more information. To schedule a free memory screening appointment, contact Sarah Gavin at sgavin@familymeans.org or 651-789-4004. Walk-ins are welcome if there is space. Community Thread is located at 2300 Orleans St. W in Stillwater.

By Sally Anderson