Many older people worry about becoming more forgetful. They think forgetfulness is
the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. In the past, memory loss and confusion were
considered a normal part of aging. However, scientists now know that most people
remain both alert and able as they age, although it may take them longer to remember
A lot of people experience memory lapses. Some memory problems are serious, and
others are not. People who have serious changes in their memory, personality, and
behavior may suffer from a form of brain disease called dementia. Dementia seriously
affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer's disease is one of many
types of dementia.
The term dementia describes a group of symptoms that are caused by changes in
brain function. Dementia symptoms may include asking the same questions
repeatedly; becoming lost in familiar places; being unable to follow directions; getting
disoriented about time, people, and places; and neglecting personal safety, hygiene,
and nutrition. People with dementia lose their abilities at different rates. Dementia is
caused by many conditions. Some conditions that cause dementia can be reversed,
and others cannot. Further, many different medical conditions may cause symptoms
that seem like Alzheimer's disease, but are not. Some of these medical conditions may
be treatable. Reversible conditions can be caused by a high fever, dehydration, vitamin
deficiency and poor nutrition, bad reactions to medicines, problems with the thyroid
gland, or a minor head injury. Medical conditions like these can be serious and should
be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Sometimes older people have emotional problems that can be mistaken for dementia.
Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored may be more common for older people facing
retirement or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these
changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful. Emotional problems can be
eased by supportive friends and family, or by professional help from a doctor or
The two most common forms of dementia in older people are Alzheimer's disease and
multi-infarct dementia (sometimes called vascular dementia). These types of dementia
are irreversible, which means they cannot be cured. In Alzheimer's disease, nerve cell
changes in certain parts of the brain result in the death of a large number of cells.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease begin slowly and become steadily worse. As the
disease progresses, symptoms range from mild forgetfulness to serious impairments in
thinking, judgment, and the ability to perform daily activities. Eventually, patients may
need total care.
In multi-infarct dementia, a series of strokes or changes in the brain's blood supply may
result in the death of brain tissue. The location in the brain where the strokes occur and
the severity of the strokes determine the seriousness of the problem and the symptoms
that arise. Symptoms usually begin abruptly and progress in a step-wise fashion with
repeated strokes. At this time, there is no way to reverse the damage that has already
been caused by a stroke. However, treatment to prevent further strokes is very
People who are worried about memory problems should see their doctor. If the doctor
believes that the problem is serious, then a thorough physical, neurological, and
psychiatric evaluation may be recommended. A complete medical examination for
memory loss may include gathering information about the person's medical history,
including the use of prescription and over the counter medicines, diet, past medical
problems, and general health. Because a correct diagnosis depends on recalling these
details accurately, the doctor also may ask a family member for information about the
Tests of blood and urine may be done to help the doctor find any problems. There are
also tests of mental abilities (tests of memory, problem-solving, counting, and
language). A brain CT scan may assist the doctor in ruling out a curable disorder. A
scan also may show signs of normal age-related changes in the brain. It may be
necessary to have another scan at a later date to see if there have been further
changes in the brain.
Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia can exist together, making it hard for the doctor to diagnose either one specifically. Scientists once thought that multi-infarct dementia and other types of vascular dementia caused most cases of irreversible
mental impairment. They now believe that most older people with irreversible dementia have Alzheimer's disease.
Our memory is where we store, retain and retrieve information. When there is some damage to the part of our brain that performs these functions, memory loss can occur. Memory loss is a symptom in which a person experiences an abnormal level of forgetfulness and inability to recall past events in their life. This is usually a consequence of damage to the brain which may have been caused by disease, injury or excessive emotional stress. Memory loss may be temporary or permanent. Not all memory problems signify dementia or Alzheimer’s. Memory impairment can be caused by many medical conditions, and it is possible that something simple and treatable such as depression or epilepsy or even a medication may be the underlying cause.
Memory loss is a very broad term that can mean any deficit in memory function. There are many different types of memory loss including anterograde (inability to learn new memories), retrograde (forgetting old memories), complete or partial, sudden or long term. Sometimes a person will have only memory loss (sometimes called the ‘amnesic syndrome’) or only mild memory loss (called ‘mild cognitive impairment’). Sometimes a person will have memory loss as part of more general problems, such as in dementia where a person may have difficulty with memory as well as difficulty with speech, fiddly jobs and planning.
Some memory loss is quite common as people get older, and people may be worried that they are developing dementia. For this reason there is included a short paragraph on the warning signs of dementia.
What causes memory loss?
womanMemory loss is a common health complaint, particularly in the elderly. There is an array of medical conditions that can affect memory and cause memory loss, many of which can be treated easily. Some causes of memory loss include:
Normal ageing process (age-associated memory impairment);
Vitamin deficiencies such as B12 and anaemia, electrolyte imbalances;
Thyroid abnormalities: hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism;
Depression, anxiety and stress (pseudo dementia);
Other psychiatric disorders, especially post traumatic stress disorder;
Dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia;
Temporal lobe surgery;
Cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, transient ischaemic attack and multi-infarct dementia;
Cardiovascular disorders: acute myocardial infarction, arrythmias (irregular heartbeat), congestive heart failure;
Seizures (especially temporal lobe epilepsy);
Medications (e.g. barbiturates and benzodiazepines);
Drugs: many illicit drugs, including amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine can cause short term memory loss;
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (thiamine deficiency);
Encephalitis (especially Herpes simplex infection);
Infections: meningitis, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease);
Huntington’s disease, late Parkinson’s disease, Picks’ disease.
Some degree of memory loss is a normal part of ageing and not all people who have memory loss have dementia or any of the above conditions.
What is Amnesia?
Amnesia refers to the loss of memories, such as facts, information and experiences. Though forgetting your identity is a common plot device in movies and television, that's not generally the case in real-life amnesia. Instead, people with amnesia — also called amnestic syndrome — usually know who they are. But, they may have trouble learning new information and forming new memories. Amnesia can be caused by damage to areas of the brain that are vital for memory processing. Unlike a temporary episode of memory loss (transient global amnesia), amnesia can be permanent. There's no specific treatment for amnesia, but techniques for enhancing memory and psychological support can help people with amnesia and their families cope.
What are the Symptoms of Amnesia?
The two main symptoms of amnesia are:
1)Difficulty learning new information following the onset of amnesia (anterograde amnesia)
2)Difficulty remembering past events and previously familiar information (retrograde amnesia)
Most people with amnesia have problems with short-term memory. They can't retain new information. Recent memories are most likely to be lost, while more remote or deeply ingrained memories may be spared. Someone may recall experiences from childhood or know the names of past presidents, but not be able to name the current president, know what month it is or remember what was for breakfast.
Isolated memory loss doesn't affect a person's intelligence, general knowledge, awareness, attention span, judgment, personality or identity. People with amnesia usually can understand written and spoken words and can learn skills such as bike riding or piano playing. They may understand they have a memory disorder.
Amnesia isn't the same as dementia. Dementia often includes memory loss, but it also involves other significant cognitive problems that lead to a decline in daily functioning. A pattern of forgetfulness is also a common symptom of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but the memory and other cognitive problems in MCI aren't as severe as those experienced in dementia.
Additional signs and symptoms: Depending on the cause of the amnesia, other signs and symptoms may include:
False memories (confabulation), either completely invented or made up of genuine memories misplaced in time
Confusion or disorientation
When to see a doctor?
Anyone who experiences unexplained memory loss, head injury, confusion or disorientation requires immediate medical attention. A person with amnesia may not be able to identify his or her location or have the presence of mind to seek medical care. If someone you know has symptoms of amnesia, help the person get medical attention.
What are the Causes of Amnesia?
Normal memory function involves many parts of the brain. Any disease or injury that affects the brain can interfere with memory. Amnesia can result from damage to brain structures that form the limbic system, which controls your emotions and memories. These structures include the thalamus, which lies deep within the center of your brain, and the hippocampal formations, which are situated within the temporal lobes of your brain.
Amnesia caused by brain injury or damage is known as neurological amnesia. Possible causes of neurological amnesia include:
2)Brain inflammation (encephalitis) as a result of an infection with a virus such as herpes simplex virus, as an autoimmune reaction to cancer somewhere else in the body (paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis), or as an autoimmune reaction in the absence of cancer.
3)Lack of adequate oxygen in the brain, for example, from a heart attack, respiratory distress or carbon monoxide poisoning.
4)Long-term alcohol abuse leading to thiamin (vitamin B-1) deficiency (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome)
5)Tumors in areas of the brain that control memory
6)Degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia
8)Certain medications, such as benzodiazepines or other medications that act as sedatives
Head injuries that cause a concussion, whether from a car accident or sports, can lead to confusion and problems remembering new information. This is especially common in the early stages of recovery. Mild head injuries typically do not cause lasting amnesia, but more-severe head injuries may cause permanent amnesia.
Another rare type of amnesia, called dissociative (psychogenic) amnesia, stems from emotional shock or trauma, such as being the victim of a violent crime. In this disorder, a person may lose personal memories and autobiographical information, but usually only briefly.
What are the Risk factors related to Amnesia?
The chance of developing amnesia might increase if you've experienced Brain surgery, head injury or trauma, Stroke, Alcohol abuse or Seizures.
What are the complications with Amnesia?
Amnesia varies in severity and scope, but even mild amnesia takes a toll on daily activities and quality of life. The syndrome can cause problems at work, at school and in social settings. It may not be possible to recover lost memories. Some people with severe memory problems need to live in a supervised situation or extended-care facility.
Prevention for Amnesia
Because damage to the brain can be a root cause of amnesia, it's important to take steps to minimize your chance of a brain injury. For example:
Avoid excessive alcohol use.
Wear a helmet when bicycling and a seat belt when driving.
Treat any infection quickly so that it doesn't have a chance to spread to the brain.
Seek immediate medical treatment if you have any symptoms that suggest a stroke or brain aneurysm, such as a severe headache or one-sided numbness or paralysis.
We’ve all misplaced keys, blanked on someone’s name, or forgotten a phone number. When we’re young, we don’t tend to pay much mind to these lapses, but as we grow older, sometimes we worry about what they mean. While it’s true that certain brain changes are inevitable when it comes to aging, major memory problems are not one of them. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and the symptoms that may indicate a developing cognitive problem.
Memory and aging: Forgetfulness is a common complaint among many of us as we get older. You start to talk about a movie you saw recently when you realize you can’t remember the title. You’re giving directions to your house when you suddenly blank on a familiar street name. You find yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen wondering what you went in there for. Memory lapses can be frustrating, but most of the time they aren’t cause for concern. Age-related memory changes are not the same thing as dementia.
As we grow older, we experience physiological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions we’ve always taken for granted. It takes longer to learn and recall information. We’re not as quick as we used to be. In fact, we often mistake this slowing of our mental processes for true memory loss. But in most cases, if we give ourselves time, the information will come to mind.
Memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process
The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle, habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter. Furthermore, many mental abilities are largely unaffected by normal aging, such as:
Your ability to do the things you’ve always done and continue to do often
The wisdom and knowledge you’ve acquired from life experience
Your innate common sense and your ability to form reasonable arguments and judgments
What are 3 causes of age-related memory loss?
The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, often deteriorates with age.
Hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth also decline with age.
Older people often experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.
What is difference between Normal forgetfulness and dementia?
For most people, occasional lapses in memory are a normal part of the aging process, not a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia. The following types of memory lapses are normal among older adults and generally are not considered warning signs of dementia:
Occasionally forgetting where you left things you use regularly, such as glasses or keys.
Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as calling a grandson by your son’s name.
Occasionally forgetting an appointment or walking into a room and forgetting why you entered.
Becoming easily distracted or having trouble remembering what you’ve just read, or the details of a conversation.
Not quite being able to retrieve information you have “on the tip of your tongue.”
Does your memory loss affect your ability to function?
The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling. The memory lapses have little impact on your daily performance and ability to do what you want to do. Dementia, on the other hand, is marked by a persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, language, judgment, and abstract thinking. When memory loss becomes so pervasive and severe that it disrupts your work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, you may be experiencing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or another disorder that causes dementia, or a condition that mimics dementia.
Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between normal age-related cognitive changes and the more serious symptoms that indicate dementia. MCI can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes, but the line between MCI and normal memory problems is not always a clear one. The difference is often one of degrees. For example, it’s normal as you age to have some problems remembering the names of people. However, it’s not normal to forget the names of your close family and friends and then still be unable to recall them after a period of time.
If you have mild cognitive impairment, you and your family or close friends will likely be aware of the decline in your memory or mental function. But, unlike people with full-blown dementia, you are still able to function in your daily life without relying on others.
While many people with MCI eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Some people with MCI plateau at a relatively mild stage of decline while others even return to normal. The course is difficult to predict, but in general, the greater the degree of memory impairment, the greater your risk of developing dementia some-time in the future.
When to see a doctor for memory loss?
It’s time to consult a doctor when memory lapses become frequent enough or sufficiently noticeable to concern you or a family member. If you get to that point, make an appointment as soon as possible to talk with your primary physician and have a thorough physical examination. Even if you’re not displaying all the necessary symptoms to indicate dementia, now may be a good time to take steps to prevent a small problem becoming a larger one. Your doctor can assess your personal risk factors, evaluate your symptoms, eliminate reversible causes of memory loss, and help you obtain appropriate care. Early diagnosis can treat reversible causes of memory loss, lessen decline in vascular dementia, or improve the quality of life in Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
The blood of healthy postmenopausal women may offer signs of increased risk of small areas of brain damage, dubbed white matter hyperintensities (WMH), which have been linked to memory loss, researchers reported.
In a prospective observational study, women who began with higher levels of thrombogenic microvesicles were more likely to have greater volumes of WMH 4 years later, according to Kejal Kantarci, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, and colleagues.
One implication is that preventing formation of thrombogenic microvesicles may reduce the burden of WMH, which have been associated with memory loss and the risk of stroke, Kantarci and colleagues argued in the Feb. 13 issue of Neurology.
Thrombogenic microvesicles are shed by activated platelets, the researchers noted, and may affect the brain's microstructure along with conventional risk factors such as hypertension, age, and smoking.
"This study suggests that these microvesicles in the blood may contribute to the development of white matter hyperintensities in women who have recently gone through menopause," Kantarci said in a statement.
"Preventing the platelets from developing these microvesicles could be a way to stop the progression of white matter hyperintensities in the brain," she added.
Because most studies examining the effects of WMH have been conducted in older and mainly male groups, Kantarci and colleagues analyzed members of a cohort of recently menopausal women enrolled in a randomized trial of hormone therapy to slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
Women taking part in the main study were asked to take part in the substudy, in which MRI was used to measure changes in WMH before randomization and at 18, 36, and 48 months afterward.
At baseline, the researchers measured conventional cardiovascular risk factors, carotid intima-media thickness, coronary arterial calcification, plasma lipids, markers of platelet activation, and numbers of thrombogenic microvesicles.
They correlated those with changes in WMH volume, adjusting for age, months past menopause, and whether or not participants had the APOE e4 gene, which is associated with Alzheimer's risk.
All told, 95 women (average age 53) were included in the analysis. All had at least some WMH at baseline, with an average of 0.88% of the total white matter volume, Kantarci and colleagues reported.
On average, the volume of WMH rose by 63 mm3 at 18 months, 122 mm3 at 36 months, and 155 mm3 at 48 months, but only the 36- and 48-month levels were significantly different from baseline, Kantarci and colleagues found.
Nevertheless, the 36- and 48-month levels were significantly correlated (P=0.03) with the numbers of platelet-derived and total thrombogenic microvesicles observed at baseline, although not with most other measured risk factors.
"Neither smoking status nor the history of medication-controlled migraines modified the WMH load and longitudinal change in WMH volume at the specified time points (P>0.05)," the authors explained.
The associations "suggest that in vivo platelet activation may contribute to a cascade of events leading to development of WMH in recently menopausal women," the researchers concluded.
But they cautioned that there might be several unexamined mechanisms, such as genetic variation, underlying the progression of WMH. They also noted that the study population consists of healthy, well-educated and mostly nonsmoking women, so the results may not reflect the general postmenopausal population.