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Memory of Recent Events | Doctor's Diary

Memory is what most people think about when they think about Alzheimer's disease , and it is true that memory is affected early in the illness. The problem, however, is that memory complaints are very common as people get older. Therefore, until very old age (say about 95 years old) most people with memory complaints do not have dementia. How to sort out those who do and those who do not is a major task for physicians, but it boils down to two features: does the person with a memory complaint also have impairment in other areas, such as language, calculation, attention and concentration? Do these impairments interfere with function? I sometimes tell patients that there used to be a joke about people who were worried whether they drank too much. The joke was that you only really had a problem if you drank more than your doctor did. These days, the joke is that you only have a memory problem if your memory is worse than your doctor's. The point is to show people that most people complain of their memory as they get older (roughly, any time after your 30's). Not everyone is reassured by this, however.

Complaints about recent memory are a shade more closely associated with dementia than are complaints about not remembering names. Much of this relates to context, though. It often is perfectly normal for a person not to remember a recent event until they have been given a hint, or prompt about it, especially if it is a general prompt about context. For example, if someone asks you what you did yesterday, for a moment you might forget, but if they said, "did we go see someone?" you might then well remember a visit, from which all the other memories of the day's events would be recalled. This is quite normal.

Something that would raise concern is if a person could not remember the events at all, even with hints. Another concerning feature, which would make it worthwhile to see a doctor, would be a person repeatedly asking about recent events (or upcoming events). This is also described in the symptom about repetition.

See Also:
About Dementia > Alzheimer's Disease > Memory
Symptom Library > Memory & Language > Memory for Names and Faces
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Last updated January 13, 2019
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