Our brains slow down and lose some capacity for memory as part of the normal aging process. Normal changes in memory and brain function should not interfere substantially in an elder’s daily life.
Let’s take a closer look at what is – and isn’t – considered normal age-related memory loss.
What Changes Should be Expected with Normal Aging?
It typically takes longer for a brain to process information or solve problems as it gets older. Reaction time also slows.
People may notice that they need more time to remember names, dates or other information as they age. Learning new information may take longer than it used to. It also may take more time for an aging brain to find the words it needs.
An elder could take longer to get their words out in general, but there should not be significant problems understanding language.
Which Memory Changes are Not Part of the Normal Aging Process?
While certain areas of the brain are commonly affected by the aging process, other functions typically are not. If changes are seen in these areas, a doctor should be consulted.
Normal aging does not typically affect remote memory, which pertains to events from the distant past.
Procedural memory, or knowing how to do things, should remain intact in normal aging.
Semantic recall, or general knowledge, is typically unaffected in the normal aging process
Common signs that memory loss may be something more than normal aging include:
- Asking the same question repeatedly
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Inability to recognize or remember the name of a close friend or family member
- Forgetting dates or events, with no recollection of them when reminded
If it’s not Normal Aging, What is It?
There are many potential causes for memory loss. Any senior who has signs of abnormal memory function should be evaluated by their doctor.
Many causes of memory loss are treatable and reversible.
Some medications – or combinations of medications – have side effects that affect brain function.
Ensure the primary care doctor is aware of every single drug and supplement a senior takes, including over-the-counter medication.
Physical health conditions
Many health conditions can potentially cause memory loss that may resolve when properly treated.
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Certain cancers
- Brain injuries
- Heart disease
- Blood clots
- Mental health conditions
- Mental health challenges can greatly affect a senior’s brain function.
- Sleep disorders
Again, with treatment, these memory changes may be reversed.
Many seniors greatly fear developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. This can affect their willingness to admit to memory changes, or discuss them with their doctor.
It is important to have any abnormal memory changes checked early. Even if it turns out to be an irreversible dementia, there may be treatment to slow it’s decline or help manage symptoms. It also gives the senior a better opportunity to get legal and financial affairs in order.
Normal Memory Loss Shouldn’t Interfere with Life
Misplacing glasses, forgetting the name of an acquaintance, or having an appointment slip one’s mind are all common with normal aging.
When memory loss interferes with an elder’s day to day life, however, it is important to talk about it with the doctor.