Dementia & Age Associated Memory Impairment

Dementia is the medical term for severe loss of memory. Memory loss can be caused by multiple problems including disease, injury, stroke, oxygen deprivation, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), alcohol & drug abuse, adverse effects of prescription drugs, epilepsy, heart disease, endocrine disorders, and many others.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of progressive dementia, occurring in an estimated 10% of people over 65 years of age. In this disease, areas of the brain controlling memory, language, and perception are slowly destroyed by an inflammation process in the areas of the brain controlling these functions.

Impairment in the formation of new memories is an early symptom that then progresses over the course of years to profound global amnesia and functional impairment. The brain function of a person who has Alzheimer’s disease continues to get worse until the person dies. Death may occur after as few as 3 years or as long as 20 years after an accurate diagnosis is made. The earlier the onset, the more insidious the disease process.

Early Stage Alzheimer’s Symptoms

» Memory lapses

» Problems thinking of the right name for common objects

» Difficulties making decisions

» Confusion

» Personality changes, such as increased irritability

Late Stage Alzheimer’s Symptoms

» Long term memory loss, including forgetting the names of family members

» Inability to manage responsibilities, such proper diet and medication management

» Inability to look after oneself, including toileting

» Severe personality changes

» Loss of social skills, such as inability to hold a conversation

» Speech loss

» In the final stages, the person is usually bed-ridden and needs full time care.

Neuropsychological testing is often very helpful in making the distinction between normal, age-associated memory impairment and the presence of dementia. Assessments can also help rule out the existence of major depression, a treatable condition that can cause symptoms similar to early stage dementia.

Age-Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI)

Normal, Age-Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI) is very different from dementia. AAMI is diagnosed when 4 criteria are present:

(1) You are 50 years old or older;
(2) You have complaints about your memory;
(3) You have no health issue to explain any memory problem; and
(4) Your memory performance is lower than an average 25-year-old but not impaired.

AAMI is not related impairment in memory systems, but to the slowing of general cognitive processes. Learning to allow more time to complete tasks and controlling related frustrations are important steps to add to our daily lives if we are to enjoy health aging. While neuropsychological assessment can be a critical tool in early detection of serious health issues, it can be just as valuable in ruling-out serious impairment.

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