Memory loss is a common symptom of aging, and is often associated with considerable anxiety since there is so much concern about dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. It turns out that for most people over the age of 65, occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of the aging process – and not something to worry about.
“Where is my Wallet?”
Most of us begin to experience some forgetfulness – or “age-related memory loss” – after the age of forty. What I hear about most often is “I went into the kitchen, and forgot what I was looking for”; or, “I couldn’t remember the name of that wonderful movie I saw last year.”
These examples are typical of people who have a normal memory, but experience lapses that are annoying and frustrating. Most of the time, these symptoms are benign, will not worsen over time and don’t interfere with normal day-to-day functioning. Another reassuring aspect of this kind of memory loss is that the person is acutely aware of these lapses, and is concerned that something may be wrong. On the contrary, most people with memory loss caused by an underlying disorder or disease are not aware of the problem.
When to Seek Help
When memory loss is progressive, and particularly when associated with other symptoms such as difficulty retrieving common names or words, or occasional confusion, it’s time for a medical evaluation. Typically, it’s not the person, but family and friends who become aware of a problem that is interfering with normal daily activity. The person may also be less enthusiastic about participating in previously enjoyed activity. Simple daily functions, like cooking or managing finances, may become more difficult.
This type of memory loss, or dementia, requires careful medical evaluation. There are many medical conditions that can masquerade as dementia, including substance abuse, depression, a tumor, stroke, or depression. If you are concerned – about yourself or a friend or family member – it’s important to consult your primary care provider.
William Pendlebury, MD, is a pathologist with expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss at the UVM Medical Center’s Memory Center, and a professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.