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Is This Normal Aging or Not?

Pain or sudden changes need a closer look.

Memory Loss

Can’t remember where you put your keys? Forgot the name of an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while? Those momentary lapses are normal.

No need to worry, unless the forgetfulness is impairing your daily life, says John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, co-director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and professor of geriatric medicine and gerontology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Many of us have a memory complaint, but it’s not dementia or disease,” he says.

Generally, information processing slows as we grow older, and older people have more trouble multitasking. But there’s a lot of variability in cognitive function. Not surprisingly, for example, older adults typically outperform young adults in their knowledge of the world.

The red flag for dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease is the inability to learn and retain new information. Problems with episodic memory are a sign of mild cognitive impairment that could be a precursor of the disease, according to new guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.

People with Alzheimer’s have other cognitive deficits, as well, such as trouble with language or recognizing objects, Trojanowski says. Biomarkers detected through imaging or a test of cerebrospinal fluid can aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

If you have memory problems and you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to be evaluated. Alzheimer’s disease rarely occurs among people who are younger than 65. About one in eight people aged 65-74 have Alzheimer’s, and 43% of people who are older than 85 have Alzheimer’s.

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Reviewed on May 06, 2011

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