Aging is a natural process, one that comes with its fair share of changes and challengesnot the least of which include those related to memory. Plenty of older adults joke about having senior moments when they forget something or lose focus. And truthfully, some forgetfulness and lapses in memory are to be expected with age.

But these momentary gaffes should never be confused with more serious memory issues that warrant a much greater level of attention and care. So, how can you tell the difference? What amount of memory loss is normal for older adults? And when should you be on alert for a more concerning cognitive condition?

In this article, were answering questions like these to help seniors and their loved ones distinguish between normal age-related memory loss and more serious experiences of memory decline.

Whats Normal?

Asthe CDC explains, Normal brain aging may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking Its normal to occasionally forget recent events such as where you put your keys or the name of the person you just met.

Basically, theres no cause for concern when dealing with simple forgetfulness or mild delays in recall, such as with names, dates, and events. These are all considered typical aspects of the normal aging process.

In fact, there aremultiple memory processesthat unfold in the human brain, and they can be disrupted or slowed by age-related biologythereby leading to forgetfulness. These include functions for:

  • Learning new information
  • Recalling information
  • Recognizing familiar information

There are alsovarious types of memory that can be affected differently by normal aging. So, for instance, while seniors may expect to experience a decline in memory functions like learning and recalling new information, the aging process should not impact preserved memory functions like remote memory (remembering events from years ago), procedural memory (performing tasks) or semantic recall (general knowledge).

Othercognitive changes that may occur with normal aginginclude:

  • Language: This may be modestly affected by normal aging, and it involves the words, their pronunciation, and the ways they are used in combination to be understood.
  • Tip of the tongue and verbal fluency: Trouble remembering names and finding words in conversations are quite common, and verbal fluency (taking longer to get the words out) can also be affected.
  • Information processing: While verbal intelligence, or vocabulary, remains unchanged with aging, the speed of information processing gradually slows, such as with problem-solving skills.
  • Executive functions: Functions like planning and abstract thinking generally remain normal for everyday tasks, but are slowed when faced with new tasks or divided attention (multi-tasking).
  • Cognitive processing and reaction time: A slowing of the speed of these functions occurs with aging.

Whats Not Normal?

Its important to keep in mind that old age is not a sickness or a health condition, but rather a mature stage of the human lifecycle. And even though a gradual slowing down of internal processes is normal, a seniors brain has the potential to remain active and sharp if exercised properly.

When emerging illnesses enter the picture, however, thats when more concerning memory issues come into play. Although health conditions likeAlzheimers diseaseand dementia are pervasive among older adults, they are NOT normal conditions of aging.

TheNational Institute on Agingexplains that serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving, using the phone, and finding your way home. Thats why its important to check in with ones physician on any memory-related issues they may be experiencing.

The NIA outlines the following signs that it might be time to talk to a doctor:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in places a person knows well
  • Having trouble following recipes or directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • Not taking care of oneselfeating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely

Speaking with a medical professional about these types of challenges is critical for many reasons, and one of the most important is to determine their cause. After all, not all memory and cognitive problems happen for the same reason. They could be outcomes of various issues, such as depression, infection, medication side effects, or brain disorders. Knowing the cause helps to identify whether the condition can be reversed or improved, as well as what treatments are best.

When and How to Get Support

When seniors and their loved ones are more knowledgeable about the differences between normal age-related memory loss andmore serious memory or cognitive decline, they can be proactive in avoiding preventable issues, pursuing diagnoses, and getting support.

For neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers disease and dementia, there may come a time when caring for the individual is too overwhelming, time-consuming, or unsafe to be managed effectively at home.Memory careis a specialized form of assisted living that caters to individuals faced with distinct memory challenges requiring skilled professional support to maintain ones health and safety. The best memory care communities also prioritize each residents mental acuity and emotional well-being, placing great focus on compassion, dignity, human connection, and opportunities for engagement.

With a trained caregiving team to consistently manage ones individual needs, as well as nurses and staff who monitor behaviors and changes in health, theres peace of mind knowing that a loved one is getting what they need to maintain overall well-being. If a serious memory challenge is having a major impact on your life, or that of a loved one, consider looking into the option of a quality memory care community.

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