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Forgetfulness and Age

Posted on January 30, 2009 by DementiaGuide

Forgetfulness and Age

It seems like forgetfulness and age are inextricably tied as we get older. As we age, many of us may fear that increasing forgetfulness may be the first signs of dementia. However, some forms of forgetfulness after the age of fifty are seen as a natural part of the aging process and don't necessarily lead to Alzheimer's or any other form of dementia. Understanding the differences between normal forgetfulness and forgetfulness related to dementia can put your mind at ease.

Normal Forgetfulness and Age or Dementia?

Most of us are familiar with the disconcerting feeling of walking into a room and thinking, "What did I come in here for?" before we remember what we wanted. As we age, these types of momentary memory lapses, which include forgetting where we put our keys or where we parked the car at the mall, are normal. These instances are tied to a reduction in the brain's ability to learn and retain new, short-term information.

The normal forgetfulness of age often affects memorization. You may find it harder to remember phone numbers, addresses, or the names of new acquaintances. That is why you may draw a blank when you see someone you met last week and can't remember his or her name. Dementia causes a different type of forgetfulness rather than forgetting newly learned information, such as the names of new acquaintances, the person with dementia may also forget the names of family members. Rather than simply misplacing keys, they may actually put them in an inappropriate location, such as in the washing machine. With dementia, it is not just memory that is affected, but cognitive function as well.

With normal forgetfulness caused by aging, you may forget the details of an event; however, a person with dementia may forget the entire event, insisting that it never happened. Often, you can recall something later if it is a normal memory lapse. These are those "Ah-ha!" moments when you suddenly recall the name of someone you saw earlier in the day. A person with dementia will generally not recall this missing information.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Although normal forgetfulness and age do go hand-in-hand for many people without ever progressing to dementia, there is a stage that falls in between the two that doctors now refer to as Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI. With MCI, memory loss falls into an intermediate range. Rather than simply forgetting brief, short memories or temporarily forgetting things, a person with MCI may forget what are considered "intermediate" details. For instance, he may still remember family members but sometimes forget the names of neighbors or coworkers. At this point, MCI can begin to interfere with work, although the person can still take care of him or herself quite well.

A person with MCI is three or four times more likely to develop dementia than a person with simple age-related forgetfulness. If you have any concerns at all, talk to your doctor.

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