Memory and thinking

“Dang, I know I came into the kitchen for something!”

Many older people worry about their memory and other thinking abilities. For example, they might be concerned about taking longer than before to learn new things, or they might sometimes forget to pay a bill. These changes are usually signs of mild forgetfulness—often a normal part of aging—not serious memory problems.

Talk with your doctor to determine if memory and other thinking problems are normal or not, and what is causing them.

What’s Normal and What’s Not?

What’s the difference between normal, age-related forgetfulness and a serious memory problem? Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving and shopping. Signs may include:

Asking the same questions over and over again

Getting lost in familiar places

Not being able to follow instructions

Becoming confused about time, people, and places

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Some older adults have a condition called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, in which they have more memory or other thinking problems than other people their age. People with MCI can take care of themselves and do their normal activities. MCI may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs of MCI include:

Losing things often

Forgetting to go to important events and appointments

Having more trouble coming up with desired words than other people of the same age

If you have MCI, visit your doctor every 6 to 12 months to see if you have any changes in memory or thinking skills over time. There may be things you can do to maintain your memory and mental skills. No medications have been approved to treat MCI.

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, learning and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with daily life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign. A person may also have problems with language skills, visual perception, or paying attention. Some people have personality changes. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.

There are different forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form in people over age 65.

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