Memory Loss and Dementia
Memory loss is the most well known symptom of dementia, but is also one of the most misunderstood. There is a difference between age-related memory loss, which is a normal part of aging, and the more serious memory loss associated with dementia. Occasional lapses in memory are a common occurrence in aging adults and what are known as “senior moments” – when a senior is interrupted while completing a task and is unable to remember what they were previously working on – occur more often. To understand the issue more we have written a guide to lay out aspects of memory and memory loss to help you know what is going on.
We also have information on the other Signs and Symptoms of Dementia to help you know what to look for.
Five Types of Memory
This is the type of memory that deals with the accumulation of facts and experience that a person gains over their entire lifetime – meanings, understandings, and other concept-based knowledge. They aren’t ‘memories’ of one’s past, in fact this type of memory holds information that a person typically doesn’t remember when they learned it. It is a general knowledge about the world and allows people to giving meaning to otherwise meaningless words and sentences. An example is knowing the capital of a country or knowing that the CN Tower is in Toronto.
As a person gets older, semantic memory usually remains the same and may even improve.
This is the ability to remember to do something in the future, such as remembering to go to a business appointment in the afternoon or remembering to put the cap back on the toothpaste after using it. This type of memory can be easily improved through the use of cues or notes and by writing down the details. To maintain prospective memory you can write yourself reminders and spend some time each day organizing your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules.
Some studies show normal age decline in this type of memory and others studies do not. However, when a senior is allowed to use cues their prospective memory is almost as good as a younger adult.
This is the type of memory that deals with remembering what happened in the past minutes, hours, or days. It changes gradually, so any abrupt changes are most likely the cause of other factors. To maintain recent memory, one can keep their mind and body active. Engaging in reading or problem solving and exercising are known to help.
This type of memory deteriorates naturally with old age.
Also known as episodic memory, this is the ability to remember things that happened years ago and contains memories of autobiographical events – times, places, emotions, and contextual knowledge. It is difficult to study because memories are quite subjective, especially in the long term, and it is hard to validate anything that a person remembers from years past. To maintain this type of memory a person should socialize with friends and families, reminiscing on old times and by reading old letters to stir old memories.
This type of memory is at risk in normal aging, particularly remembering where one learned or experienced a memory. However, the extent to which this is part of normal aging is controversional, as some studies show that remote memory is roughly equal in elderly as it is in younger people. It is unknown as to whether a senior remembering old times is able to do that because of good remote memory, or if it is because they have told the story so many times over their life.
Factors Affecting Memory
Studies show that staying active is the number one way to maintain your cognitive abilities and prevent against memory loss. There are many ways to stay active:
- Mental activity – reading books, doing puzzles and crosswords, problem solving
- Physical activity – exercising
- Social activity – visiting or calling friends, meeting new people
- Healthy eating – avoiding high fat, high sugar foods, eating a proper diet
- Planning – keep a to-do list and establish day-to-day routines
There are a number of things that could contribute to memory loss:
- Medical disorders & diseases – thyroid problems, heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease
- Medication – some anti-depressants, some anti-histamines
- Emotional issues – anxiety, depression, stress
- Medical changes – hormonal changes
- Poor diet – high fat, too high or two low cholesterol, alcohol abuse
Types of Cognitive Disorders
This is the breakdown of language skills and can range from difficulty remembering words to being completely unable to speak, read, or write. It can be split into three sub-topics:
1) Anomia – difficulty in naming things
2) Paraphasia – mistakenly saying a word that sounds like another word
3) Agrammatism – trouble understanding grammatical configuration
This is when a person has trouble in translating a verbal command into a motor response – they lose the ability to execute learned movements, even though they have the desire and physical ability to do it. For example, if you tell a person with apraxia to feed themselves with the spoon in front of them, they won’t be able to do it unless you place the spoon into their hand and start the action for them.
This is a memory disorder that affects a person’s ability to create new memories (anterograde amnesia) or recall old memories (retrograde amnesia). Amnesia can affect different types of memory but usually only one type is impaired. So although a person may not be able to remember names, they might still be able to play the piano perfectly well.
This is a loss of ability to recognize or associate an object, person, sound, or smell with its name, particularly when the sense is not deficient and the general level of memory loss is low. To be diagnosed with agnosia one must be tested to ensure that there isn’t a loss of sense and that their cognitive abilities are overall intact.
This is the inability or difficulty to make goals or follow plans to reach a goal and it most often results from damage to the frontal lobes. Often times the problem is that the person gets stuck on small details, leading to the inability to following through with achieving goals.
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