While many might joke that Alzheimer’s disease causes their forgetfulness, the real culprit can be normal aging – and no, it’s not the same thing.
“The aging process will naturally cause a certain amount of memory loss in each one of us, although it’s difficult to quantify how much,” said Taimur Habib, MD, a geriatrician with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Fairfield. “It’s normal to lose memory with aging, particularly after 65 years of age.”
While Dr. Habib said about 1% of the population under the age of 65 will be diagnosed with dementia, the number climbs over the following 20 years to affect 30-50% of people by the age of 85.
Some degree of forgetfulness – the name of an acquaintance you bump into at the mall, for example – is not uncommon, he continued. On the other hand, forgetting the steps in regular activities like balancing the household checkbook could signal something more serious.
“This is especially true if it’s recurrent. One good way to gauge concern is when forgetfulness starts interfering with day-to-day life,” Dr. Habib noted.
Signs of trouble
Other indicators that one’s memory is faltering, whether due to aging or dementia, include:
- Confusion over everyday tasks. This could be using the television remote or heating lunch in the microwave. Needing a technology reminder from the younger generation isn’t anything to worry over, but confusion doing regular tasks, like driving to the nearby market, could indicate something more serious.
- Losing things. It happens to all of us sometimes – how many rows have you walked in parking lots searching for your car? – but when you lose your keys or glasses regularly, you might need an evaluation, Dr. Habib said.
- Stumbling over words. This can also happen to everyone as we age. “It does not necessarily mean it’s a significant memory impairment,” he said. More concerning, however, is not being able to summon the word or name for a familiar object or person.
- Losing track of time. Many people, once they retire and leave predictable weekly schedules, find the days tend to blur together. But, having trouble pinpointing the month or season, or recognizing the passage of time could signal a more serious memory issue.
Talking to your primary care provider can begin the process of officially testing your memory. There are simple tests that can gauge the problem, and a referral to a geriatrician or memory care specialist might be needed for advanced testing or care.