With each passing year, the body starts to undergo changes that may ultimately disturb and compromise brain function. Although memory loss can be a natural part of aging, individuals experiencing an increase in forgetfulness may start to worry about their own health along with rising concern in close family members, friends, and their caregivers. But what characteristics help define age-related memory loss and when is help justified?
What is Age-Related Memory Loss?
The beginning of age-related memory loss is generally mild and also known as age-associated memory impairment. In its mild form, individuals start to perceive an increase in memory loss and demonstrate lower scores in objective memory tests compared to younger adults. Approximately 40 percent of people have mild form memory impairment, with only one percent progressing to dementia each year. Compared to age-associated memory impairment, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a more serious form of memory loss and affects approximately 15 percent of the senior population, with nearly 15 percent of them progressing to Alzheimer’s disease eventually. Although these individuals are functioning enough to continue living independently, it is important to recognize risk factors and symptoms that may help identify when help may be needed.
Rising research is connecting the apolipoprotein E-4 allele to Alzheimer’s risk. While more data is still warranted, neurologists continue to imply a link between advancing memory loss and genetics, including family history.
Head trauma or experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can not only compromise mental function initially, but increases the risk of memory loss and potentially Alzheimer’s disease.
Nutritional deficiencies caused by an inadequate diet can transpire into memory loss and heighten dementia risk. Living an inactive, sedentary life, smoking cigarettes, and abusing other illicit substances can also negotiate brain function.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 10 typical age-related memory changes include:
- Forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
- Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook and minor challenges in other planning or problem solving tasks.
- Occasionally needing help to modify television or microwave settings and other common tasks.
- Getting confused about the day or time but figuring it out later.
- Difficulty understanding visual images, mostly related to cataracts.
- Having difficulty finding the right word in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things but retracing steps to find them.
- Making poor decisions every once and awhile.
- Sometimes feeling weary of work, family, and social obligations.
- Developing specific ways in which tasks are done and becoming irritable if a routine is disrupted.
Assessing Age-Related Memory Loss
Assessing age-related memory loss may be difficult. However, regular assessments are critical to recognize a baseline, identify potential underlying causes, and advise whether or not help may be needed. Assessments should be completed annually for preventative measures and be more frequent as needed. Physicians may screen and assess the following:
- Potential risk factors, including advancing age or a family history.
- Memory loss history regarding onset and symptoms.
- Potential interactions and side effects of underlying diseases or medications.
- Depression or other psychological disorders.
- Objective scores from standard memory tests.
Ultimately, age-related memory loss may be a consequence of aging. If you start to recognize any of the symptoms mentioned within yourself or notice them from a loved one, it is important to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. They can then guide you into the appropriate individualized treatment and best ensure safety. Find more information regarding age-related memory loss here.