Memory Loss or Dementia
Is it Normal Memory Loss Due to Aging, or Dementia?
Memory loss can be a frustrating aspect of aging. Perhaps you can’t recall the name of a new friend or the exact time of an appointment. Or maybe you notice a loved one is forgetting details that never seemed to slip their mind in the past. It can also be worrisome—you may wonder if the forgetfulness is a natural sign of aging or symptoms of a more serious issue, such as dementia?
First of all, it’s important to know that some memory loss is normal as people advance through life. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada reports that almost 40 percent of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss, called age-associated memory impairment. Experts say such memory loss is common, typically not caused by an underlying medical condition, and should not be cause for concern.
Normal memory loss is caused by the wear and tear our bodies experience as we age. Simply put, the part of our brain that serves to form and retrieve our memories deteriorates with age, and the hormones and proteins that protect brain cells decline. Over time, we receive less blood flow to our brains, which in turn impairs memory and can cause changes in our cognitive skills.
There are also causes of memory loss that we may be able to control, including vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, alcohol abuse, dehydration and the side effects of some medications.
Here are some examples of memory loss associated with normal aging versus symptoms that may be red flags of dementia or another serious issue.
Normal: An individual may not be able to recall details of an event that took place a year ago.
Red Flag: An individual cannot recall details of recent conversations.
Normal: An individual has trouble remembering the name of a casual acquaintance.
Red Flag: An individual doesn’t recognize loved ones or know the names of family members.
Normal: An individual is prone to forgetting details or events once in a while.
Red Flag: An individual forgets details or events frequently.
Normal: An individual sometimes has difficulty finding the right words.
Red Flag: An individual experiences frequent pauses and word substitutions during conversations.
Normal: An individual has concerns about their memory but family members are not concerned.
Red Flag: Friends and relatives express concern about an individual’s memory, but that person is not aware of the problem.
Normal: An individual makes a wrong turn when walking somewhere.
Red Flag: An individual begins getting lost in familiar places.
It’s OK to experience normal memory loss, but it becomes a serious issue when it affects your daily life. If you are concerned about memory issues a loved one is experiencing, consult their primary medical provider.