05 Dec Are my memory lapses a sign of impending dementia?
The thought of developing dementia is disturbing to just about all of us. Understanding normal changes in cognitive functioning as we age, particularly those pesky memory lapses, can help to calm our fears.
Consider four levels of cognitive functioning:
- optimal functioning
- mild cognitive impairment – a normal part of aging in healthy brains
- cognitive impairment, no dementia – unable to engage in everyday activities (e.g. meal preparation, caring for self, managing finances and medications)
- severe dementia – loss of widespread cognitive functioning.
Memory is one aspect of cognitive functioning that seems to get a lot of attention.
Benign memory loss * is normal. For example, you remember that you dined out yesterday, but the name of the restaurant escapes you momentarily, and you recall it later. This is an example of mild cognitive impairment of the recall portion of memory function and is a normal part of aging. You are aware of the problem and may find yourself apologizing for it.
Malignant memory loss indicates pathology. For example, you can’t remember what you did yesterday, so you confabulate – make up imaginary experiences typical of your life to compensate for your memory loss. You aren’t even aware of the problem. This disfunction may be due to impairment of the registration and retention portions of memory function, so memories don’t get made and there is nothing to recall. This type of amnestic memory – the inability to form memories – indicates a higher risk of dementia.
Other cognitive functions in addition to memory include language, thinking, judgement, attention, perception, remembered skills (e.g. driving), ability to live a purposeful life, and executive function (ability to plan and carry out tasks).
Cognitive functioning is also intricately linked to emotional health and well-being. As we get older, we may slow down in our cognitive functioning, but we also have a wealth of life experiences and a rich array of interconnections built up over the years. As well, there are several things we can do to reduce the risk of dementia, and also delay the onset of cognitive impairment.
* V. A. KRAL, M.D., Senescent Forgetfulness: Benign and Malignant – Canadian Medical Association Journal. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1848846/
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