How much Forgetting is Too Much?
Dr. Petersen says, "It's not always easy to differentiate forgetting a friend's name from pathological forgetting. One of the most difficult questions we get is, 'How much forgetfulness is too much?'"
Consider the forgetfulness that many people experience as they age. A man comes home, flips his keys on the counter, and then can't find them five minutes later. A woman misplaces her reading glasses or her checkbook. She can't come up with the name of a coworker in the elevator. Three floors later, of course, it comes to her.
This kind of incidental forgetfulness isn't too serious. Age-related memory changes are very common and most often not related to a disease process. As we get older, we have to pay more attention or focus more on certain activities. It gets more difficult, for example, to drive and talk on a cell phone at the same time, because neither activity is getting our full attention.
On the other hand, if a person finds that he still cannot remember an experience even when he is focusing on it, that may be a sign of concern. If he forgets things he used to remember fairly easily, it may be a red flag. "You have a doctor's appointment next Tuesday because you think you're having side effects with your blood pressure medicine," Dr. Petersen suggested. "Tuesday comes and goes. You don't show up. That can happen every now and then, but when it happens today and it happened three weeks ago and you're afraid it's going to happen two weeks from now—and your family is starting to notice—that's when you may need to speak to somebody about whether the forgetfulness is more than age-related memory loss."
The key question is whether behavior has become different from usual. For example, someone who has always calculated the tip on a restaurant check asks another person to do it. Someone uncharacteristically wants to get his tax returns done by an accountant after taking pride in doing them for years, or asks someone else to drive because he can't remember how to get to a very familiar destination.
Based on the results of a physical exam and tests of memory and cognitive skills, the doctor may decide that the memory problems are not a concern. On the other hand, the doctor may decide that the changes are a sign of amnestic MCI.
Previous: Mild Cognitive Impairment
Excerpted from THE ALZHEIMER'S PROJECT: MOMENTUM IN SCIENCE, published by Public Affairs, www.publicaffairsbooks.com.
In This Section
Momentum in Science: The Supplementary Series
- Understanding and Attacking Alzheimer's 12 min
- How Far We Have Come in Alzheimer's Research 15 min
- Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment 20 min
- The Role of Genetics in Alzheimer's 12 min
- Advances in Brain Imaging 11 min
- Looking Into the Future of Alzheimer's 6 min
- The Connection Between Insulin and Alzheimer's 21 min
- Inflammation, the Immune System, and Alzheimer's 29 min
- The Benefit of Diet and Exercise in Alzheimer's 16 min
- Cognitive Reserve: What the Religious Orders Study is Revealing about Alzheimer's 20 min
- Searching for an Alzheimer's Cure: The Story of Flurizan 30 min
- The Pulse of Drug Development 15 min
- The DeMoe Family: Early-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 25 min
- The Nanney/Felts Family: Late-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 20 min
- The Quest for Biomarkers 17 min
Video: Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer's Disease
This 4-minute captioned video shows the progression of Alzheimer's disease in the brain.
Inside the Brain: An Interactive Tour
The Brain Tour explains how the brain works and how Alzheimer's affects it.
Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery
This book explains what AD is, describes the main areas in which researchers are working, and highlights new approaches for helping families and friends care for people with AD.
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- Rapid advances in our knowledge about AD have led to the development of promising new drugs and treatment strategies. However, before these new strategies can be used in clinical practice, they must be shown to work in people. Advances in prevention and treatment are only possible thanks to volunteers who participate in clinical trials.
- Among those touched by Alzheimer's (excluding self), nearly one-third provide support as a friend or relative, another 3% provide support as a healthcare professional, and the remaining two-thirds provide no support to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. When support is provided, it most often entails emotional support, followed by care-giving support. While small in comparison, more than one person in ten is providing financial support. Read more.