Memory Loss: Understanding Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Dementia is the general term that describes symptoms most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss, and problems with thinking and reasoning that interfere with daily life and activities.


Dementia does not cause the symptoms of memory loss; it is a word that describes the symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for the symptoms of dementia. 

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease damages the part of the brain involved in memory, problem solving, judgment, language, and behavior. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to take care of themselves and carry out simple tasks of daily living, such as eating, dressing, or bathing. An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most common cause of dementia among older people, but it is not a normal part of aging.

What causes Alzheimer's disease?

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. However, certain risk factors, such as advancing age, family history, and genetics increase the likelihood of developing the disease.

How to prevent Alzheimer's disease

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but treatment may slow the progression and help manage symptoms in some people. Research suggests that healthy aging can help keep the brain healthy and may offer some protection against the disease. This includes eating healthy, getting physical and mental exercise, participating in social activities, and avoiding alcohol. Medications closely monitored by a physician may also be able to help.

Normal signs of aging vs. signs to talk to your doctor 

Normal Signs of Aging  

Signs to Talk to Your Doctor 

Sometimes forgetting names,
but remembering them later
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Making occasional errors while
balancing a checkbook
Challenges in planning, solving
problems, keeping track of bills, or
trouble with numbers
Occasionally needing help to
perform everyday tasks
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
such as bathing, shaving, or cooking dinner
Getting confused about the day of the
week, but figuring it out later
Confusion with time or place
Vision changes related to cataracts
Trouble understanding visual images
and spatial relationships, leading to difficulty
with driving
Sometimes having trouble finding the right word
New language problems, such as remembering basic words, 
asking the same questions, and repeating stories
Occasionally misplacing things like a pair of glasses
Misplacing things and losing the ability
to retrace steps
Making a bad decision once in a while
Decreased or poor judgment, such as
giving away large amounts of money or
paying less attention to bathing and dressing
Sometimes feeling wary of social obligations
Withdrawal from social activities
Becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted
Changes in mood or personality such
as sudden mood swings, outbursts of
anger or crying

What if you have concerns related to memory loss?

Speak to your doctor about your memory loss concerns as soon as possible. If Alzheimer’s or a related disorder is diagnosed at an early stage, treatments may be more effective. For more information about diagnosis, treatment, caring for someone with dementia, or any other questions related to memory loss, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

Tufts Health Plan members: How your plan helps

If you're already a Tufts Health Plan member, a special program available only to members can help:

Tufts Health Plan and the Alzheimer’s Association (Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter) are working together to provide a special program for Tufts Health Plan members. If you have questions about Alzheimer’s, memory loss, or related disorders, you can speak directly with a Tufts Health Plan Dementia Care Consultant with direct access to the resources and experts at the Alzheimer’s Association.

This program can help:

  • Answer questions you have about dementia or memory loss
  • Provide personalized care planning for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
  • Assess and identify education, support, and care needs
  • Assist with referrals to community resources
  • Provide education and information
  • Provide information on support groups and free educational programs in the community
  • Work with your Care Manager and primary care physician to help meet your needs

To talk to a Tufts Health Plan Dementia Care Consultant, call 1-857-304-8187 (TTY: 711). For additional information and resources related to Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders, please visit the MA and NH Alzheimer’s Association website. For more information on the program, you can also call Customer Relations.

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