The term "senior moment" has become a saying that many use to describe the times when something simple can’t be remembered. For example, losing keys or being unable to think of a person’s name when greeting him or her are all common scenarios. Everyone has these moments, and perhaps jokes about them being "senior moments" in order to rest assured that this is just a normal part of getting older…certainly NOT something worse. So, when does such an occurrence with memory signify something of concern?
First, it is important to review what is normal aging related to the brain. There are terms to describe these changes, sometime referred to as age-associated memory impairment, or NARF (normal age related forgetfulness). In a person with NARF, one might expect to see occasional misplacing of keys or eye glasses, occasionally having trouble finding a word in conversation, or perhaps forgetting an item at the store or to drop something in the mail. These would all be examples of normal forgetfulness as we age.
If one is experiencing other types of memory loss such as becoming momentarily lost in a familiar room, is forgetting or misplacing things more frequently, or is perhaps forgetting more recent events and having trouble understanding directions, this may indicate what is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI may or may not be a pre-cursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, but should be mentioned to one’s physician as a concern.
There are many things that older adults can do to help with these normal forms of age associated memory impairment, including: keeping lists, following a regular routine, creating associations in one’s mind to help remember things and places, keeping a planner or calendar and marking off days that have past, and putting important necessary items in the same place every time (such as keys and glasses).
When symptoms of memory impairment and cognition become more impaired or grow worse over time, there may be cause for concern. A memory problem is thought to be serious if it affects daily life and functioning. The following are examples of symptoms that should be mentioned to a physician, and may require further evaluation by him or her:
- Forgetting what an item is used for, or putting items in inappropriate places – i.e. putting groceries away in the dishwasher instead of the refrigerator.
- Not knowing or recognizing a familiar person.
- Losing the ability to have a conversation.
- Losing a sense of the time of day.
- Not remembering recent events that have happened.
- Having trouble learning any new information or how to use new objects or systems.
- Becoming lost or disoriented in familiar places.
- Decrease in good judgment.
- Increase in difficulty handling money or other complex household tasks such as cooking.
- Changes in mood or personality.
If concerned about memory loss in oneself or a loved one, it is very important to seek the advice and evaluation of a physician. There are tests a physician can perform that can help to determine if symptoms are just "senior moments" or something more serious. There are also many reasons why someone might be experiencing changes in their memory which may not be Alzheimer’s disease or early dementia, and treating these causes can clear up the memory problems. However, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is very important. The current medications used for treatment of Alzheimer’s, which help to stall the progression of the disease, have been found to be more effective the earlier in the disease process they are begun.
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