When we reach our 60s, it is not uncommon for friends to say, “I think I am getting Alzheimer’s. I cannot remember anything.”

There are many reasons people of this age exhibit some “memory issues.”

When we do not focus on the task at hand, we make mistakes. We might miss parts of conversations – we can even get lost when driving.

When we become too busy or overwhelmed, we lose track and forget things. When we do not eat right or do not hydrate, we get tired.

However, if you are experiencing confusion frequently, it is time to see a doctor.

How does a doctor diagnosis early memory loss, or EML?

EML, sometimes referred to as younger-onset dementia, affects people younger than age 65. Nearly 4 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s have younger-onset.

Who gets it? Doctors do not understand why most cases of early onset dementia happen. But in a few hundred families worldwide, scientists have pinpointed several rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s.

People who inherit these rare genes tend to develop symptoms in their 30s, 40s and 50s. When Alzheimer’s disease is caused by deterministic genes, it is called “familial Alzheimer’s disease,” and many family members in multiple generations are affected.

However, there are cases that come out of the blue with no family connection and are not Alzheimer’s disease but another form of dementia.

What is the first step in determining whether or not you might have EML? Find a good doctor that you like and make an appointment. Many people feel comfortable going to their internist.

If the internist deems it necessary, he or she will refer to a neurologist. A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the brain and nervous system. I highly recommend taking this approach.

The exam would include cognitive testing, blood test, and an MRI scan of the brain.

If there is evidence of abnormalities, the doctor will recommend a plan. Some of the more common medicines to be prescribed are Aricept, Namenda, Exelon Patch, and Cerefolin.

Being diagnosed at a young age is devastating, and although the onset of Alzheimer’s disease cannot yet be stopped or reversed, an early diagnosis allows people, and their families, to plan for the future.

There are also opportunities for clinical trials, time to discuss legal matters and financial issues, and time for the caregiver to learn more about this disease and seek support.

If you are concerned about changes in your memory, call the staff at Memory Matters. We have programs for people dealing with EML and support for their caregivers. We can be reached at 843-842-6688, or visit our website at www.memory-matters.org.

Don’t live in fear. The next Brain Boosters class will begin April 21. Call today and reserve your space.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org