What Really is “Normal” Aging for Your Brain?
What day is it? What’s my age? Where did I put my keys? What’s the word I’m looking for?
As we age, questions like these become more and more frequent. Some of these questions seem like a normal part of the aging process, but recurring questions like these can also be warning signs of the early stages of dementia or even Alzheimer’s.
So what really is normal when it comes to age-related memory loss? The following types of memory lapses are normal among older adults and generally are not considered warning signs of dementia:
- Occasionally forgetting where you left things you use regularly, such as glasses or keys.
- Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as calling a grandson by your son’s name.
- Occasionally forgetting an appointment.
- Having trouble remembering what you’ve just read, or the details of a conversation.
- Walking into a room and forgetting why you entered.
- Becoming easily distracted.
- Not quite being able to retrieve information you have “on the tip of your tongue.”
While the examples above are considered normal, you may have a loved one who experiences more frequent confusion or memory loss than what is described above. The worsening of confusion or memory loss is often referred to as subjective cognitive decline and is one of the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and may be a way to identify people who are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
If you’re not sure how to recognize subjective cognitive decline in a loved one, below is a chart (original chart here) comparing typical age-related memory loss with signs of Alzheimer’s.
|Signs of Alzheimer’s (alz.org)||Typical Age-Related Changes|
|Poor judgment and decision making||Making a bad decision once in a while|
|Inability to manage a budget||Missing a monthly payment|
|Losing track of the date or the season||Forgetting which day it is and remembering later|
|Difficulty having a conversation||Sometimes forgetting which word to use|
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them||Losing things from time to time|
While it is important to recognize these warning signs, it is also important to remember that memory loss doesn’t automatically mean that you have dementia. There are many other reasons why you may be experiencing cognitive problems. That’s why it’s so important to go to a doctor to get an official diagnosis if you’re experiencing problems. Sometimes, even what looks like significant memory loss can be caused by treatable conditions and reversible external factors, such as:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Thyroid problems
- Alcohol abuse
- Side effects of medication
Recognizing these signs can help you find solutions and get early diagnoses. Don’t hesitate to contact a doctor if you notice any sign of memory loss.
Content originally by: Jeryn Laengrich, MS, CCC/SLP