It can sometimes be tricky to decipher which memory issues are related to aging and which memory problems may be an indicator of the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. While memory lapses and mild memory loss can be a natural part of the aging process, developing dementia is not a fundamental aspect of aging.
It can be helpful to know what kind of impact getting older can have on memory, and what the warning signs are of more serious cognitive impairment.
How is the memory affected with age?
Everyone forgets a name of someone they just met from time to time, or where they might have put their keys. These types of occurrences happen to adults of all ages, it’s only when we start to get older that we wonder if these memory lapses may have a deeper meaning. Also, some people are just more naturally absent-minded than others. So, how do you really know if the memory issues you are experiencing are serious or not?
As the brain ages, it goes through physiological changes that can impact memory. For instance, you may find yourself having entered a room, but not being able to remember what you came in there for. Or perhaps you start to blank on details about a book you just read or directions to the closest supermarket. Brain glitches such as these can be a result of those physiological brain changes.
In many cases it just means that the information takes longer to recall because mental processes tend to slow with aging.
Memory and Aging
The brain is always producing new neurons, regardless of age, so serious memory problems are not part of the natural aging process. However, there is some deterioration in the brain, much like there is in the body, as we get older.
Muscular strength and density decrease with age, and they diminish even further without regular use. Routine exercise helps keep the muscles strong and limber, just like mentally stimulating activities keep the mind active and sharp. Lifestyle choices, social activity, and cognitive exertion can all have an impact on memory and brain function.
The mind and body also go through some physiological changes over the years. For example, the hippocampus, which is an area in the brain associated with memory, shrinks and deteriorates with age. Also, hormone production takes a dip, including the hormones and proteins the body produces to repair damaged brains cells and produce new neurons. Blood flow typically weakens in old age as well, and decreased circulation means the brain is not getting as much of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Older adults that don’t get regular exercise may have an even more pronounced decrease in blood flow.
Natural Effects of Aging on Memory
There are several normal occurrences that happen as we get older that may cause undue concern about memory proficiency.
Some examples of natural memory lapses, may include:
- Forgetting where you put your glasses
- Forgetting names of people you just met or casual acquaintances
- Calling your granddaughter by your daughter’s name
- Forgetting appointments
- Walking into a room, but not quite sure why you are there
- Taking longer to recall titles of movies or books
The main question to ask when trying to determine just how serious memory issues might be, is whether memory impairment is affecting your daily life.
Memory Issues that May Indicate Onset of Dementia
If memory problems are disrupting your ability to carry out routine tasks and activities, then it could be an indication of a more serious neurological condition.
Symptoms of dementia can have a marked impact on a variety of cognitive and intellectual abilities, such as problem solving, judgement, language, critical thinking, spatial acuity, and memory.
If persistent memory problems are inhibiting your ability to engage in daily routines and social interaction, then it could be time to visit your doctor or healthcare professional.
Major Differences Between Natural Memory Lapses and Dementia
There are a few different aspects of daily living that can be a good measure of how serious memory problems may be.
A normal functioning brain in an older adult should provide the capability to continue living an independent lifestyle without extensive assistance. Failure to accomplish routine tasks indicates a more serious issue.
Citing Memory Issues
If you are aware of your memory lapses and can recall specific incidents of when they happened, there is not much cause for concern. If these occurrences can’t be recalled it may be time to seek help.
Frequently feeling lost and confused is not a normal part of aging. It is better to err on the side of caution with any considerable memory issues, and get checked out by a professional as soon as possible.