Our memories tend to get worse as we get older. Common forgetfulness is normal, and is why you might set a smartphone alarm, put a post-it note on your refrigerator, even make a shopping list. Even younger people can lose the thread and experience transient memory loss. With age, these become more common.
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Age-related forgetfulness can, though, raise the specter of dementia. How can you tell the difference? When should you talk to your elderly relative about getting a cognition check?
Normal Symptoms of Aging
There are a number of things which are just normal signs of aging. These are things which happen to all of us, but get more common as we age.
This is when you get caught up in something and forget about that meeting...or to take your medication. Absent-mindedness is caused by distractions which can effect either your brain's ability to encode the information (somebody tells you something while you're playing a video game and you make an acknowledging noise but don't actually record it) or retrieve it.
That word is on the tip of your tongue and you know you remember it. Frustratingly, though, you just can't actually get to it. According to experts, this is because your brain is confusing multiple memories and just can't find the one you want.
This also becomes more common with age, perhaps because you have more multiple memories to confuse. It's also why you forget people's names...or remember them but it's the wrong very similar name. In most cases the block is temporary, although sometimes it will clear later in a completely different conversation.
This is the normal fading of memories with time. While your brain doesn't really "lose" memories, it loses the ability to recall them if you don't use them very often. It's part of how your brain manages memories. As these memories aren't lost, they can sometimes randomly come back when triggered by something. As you accumulate more memories then, obviously, you forget more.
Signs of Dementia
So, it’s important to know the signs of dementia:
- Forgetting the names of people and animals they are very close to.
- Losing words in a less transient manner.
- Changes in personality, particularly paranoia and aggression.
- Disorientation or confusion.
- Getting lost on familiar routes, whether driving or walking.
- Difficulty planning, reasoning, and handling complex tasks.
Dementia also tends to get worse over time. Normal forgetfulness is most often caused by lack of focus or by the way the brain is affected by age. It never gets serious, whilst dementia will eventually progress to the point of seriously impacting quality of life and ability to live alone. We all forget things sometimes, and we work around it and in most cases the lost memory turns up again eventually.
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