Normal Age-Related Memory Loss vs. Dementia
As you get older, you may have a “forgetful moment” every now and then and find yourself wondering if that memory lapse is related to normal age-related memory loss or, perhaps, you’re concerned that it might be something more sinister, like dementia. You’re not alone. Many people ask themselves this same question every single day.
Lots of older adults experience some amount of memory loss as they get older. When there’s no underlying medical condition related to that memory loss, it’s referred to as “age-associated memory impairment,” and it’s considered to be a normal part of the aging process. However, when does that memory loss become a more serious problem, one that could be a warning sign of dementia?
Normal Age-Associated Memory Impairment vs. Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are not a normal part of the aging process. Memory loss caused by dementia differs from age-associated memory impairment in a number of ways.
What’s the difference between normal memory loss and dementia? Let’s look at these differences.
Long-term vs. Short-term Memory Loss
Someone experiencing age-associated memory impairment may not be able to recall the details of an event or conversation that took place a year or so ago; whereas, someone with memory loss related to dementia may experience difficulty remembering an event or conversation that happened recently. The person with dementia will often experience what is referred to as short-term memory loss — not being able to remember things that occurred recently although they often remember important events that happened in the distant past.
A person with age-associated memory impairment will have occasional “forgetful moments;” whereas someone with dementia will forget things and events much more frequently.
Age-associated memory impairment can also lead someone to forget things like appointments or names. They may forget important information, especially that which is recently acquired. They will need to rely more and more on memory aids and may. They will repeatedly ask the same questions. The memory loss associated with dementia, on the other hand, will have a detrimental impact on their everyday life.
Loss for Words
Someone with age-associated memory impairment will occasionally experience difficulties trying to find the right word, but someone with dementia-related memory loss will frequently stop speaking as they search for the right word. They may also make unusual substitutions for words they struggle with, such as substituting “arm clock” for the word “watch.”
A similar situation may occur when associating people with names. Those with normal age-associated memory impairment may occasionally have trouble remembering the name of an acquaintance and later remember that person’s name. Someone with memory loss due to dementia often has problems knowing the names of or even recognizing people who are close to them — family members and friends.
When a person is struggling with age-associated memory impairment, they may find themselves concerned about their memory loss, while those around them are not concerned about it. For someone with dementia, the situation is often flipped. The disease may affect the way they perceive their memory loss, and they may not see it as a problem; whereas their friends and family are often very concerned for them and are aware that there is a problem. Family members and friends may notice subtle changes that the person with dementia may not even be aware of.
Tips to Help with Normal Age-Associated Memory Impairment
As a person ages, it becomes more likely that they may develop some form of memory loss. Age-associated memory impairment is the mildest form of memory loss that can occur as a result of due to the aging process. It’s characterized by a self-perception of the memory loss with a decline in memory test scores when compared to younger adults. In the United States, approximately 40 percent of people aged 65 and older will experience age-associated memory impairment; however, only around one percent of those individuals will develop dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the next phase of memory loss, is more severe than age-associated memory impairment. It’s characterized by memory loss without functional impairments. Individuals with MCI can still live independently, but they show memory impairments that are comparable to persons with very mild Alzheimer’s disease. Approximately ten percent of persons age 65 and older have MCI. Almost 15 percent of these individuals will later develop Alzheimer’s disease.
With these statistics, it’s easy to see how important it is to do all you can to cope with normal age-associated memory impairments. Tips for coping include:
- Be organized. Keep items in designated locations for their storage. For instance, always put your wallet and keys in the same place when you take them out of your pockets or purse. Try not to store them anywhere else except in your designated storage places.
- Organize your appointments, important dates and information. Use an organizer, calendar or day planner. Apps, like Google calendar, that can be loaded on your phone to make it easy to keep your information with you at all times.
- Develop and keep routines in your life. Use these routines daily.
- As you learn new things, make associations (relate the new information to things you already know) to make it easier for you to remember later.
- As you meet someone, repeat their name back to them in your introduction to them, saying something like, “Hi, Susan Smith. My name is Neil Thompson.” Repeating their name will give you a better chance of remembering it later.
- Involve more than one sense. Think about how certain scents evoke memories. If you are a visual learner, visualize an item. Use scents or visualizations to help you remember and make associations.
- Get plenty of sleep.
It’s important to remember that having trouble remembering things, such as forgetting a person’s name, doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting dementia. Memory loss related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia disrupts daily life and routines – affecting memory, thinking and reasoning skills.
If you have concerns about your memory loss, schedule an appointment to see your family doctor and discuss it with them.
At PPH, we want residents to have the retirement experience they’ve often dreamed about. Our Life Enrichment program is filled with many wonderful activities to ensure your days are filled with activities you enjoy and shared with people you love. If you want to learn more about our premier Philadelphia senior living community and state-of-the-art memory care unit, don’t hesitate to contact our team today!