PICKENS COUNTY — Has this ever happened to you? The car keys go missing, you can’t retrieve a once-familiar name, you’ve forgotten a phone number or you walk into a room with a purpose — and then forget why.
In many ways, memories shape who a person is. They make up a person’s internal biographies — the stories we tell ourselves about what we’ve done with our lives. Memories tell a person who they’re connected to, who they’ve touched during their lives and who has touched them.
In short, memories are crucial to the essence of who we are as human beings.
Age-related memory loss can represent a loss of self. It affects the practical side of life. Forgetting how to get from your house to the grocery store, how to do everyday tasks, or how you are connected to family members, friends and other people can be a threat to your ability to live independently.
It is therefore no surprise then that declining thinking and memory skills rank among the top fears people have as they age.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the ability to remember can fade with age but many of these changes are normal and are not necessarily a sign of dementia.
In fact, when many people experience what they perceive as a “memory problem” often turns out to be nothing more than a “not-paying-attention” problem as statistically, only about 10 percent of the population will actually develop dementia at some point in their lives.
Although the odds of a dementia diagnosis do increase with age and the disease is considered to be common in very elderly individuals, gerontologists agree that dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.
What is common as people age is that the speed at which information can be retrieved on demand is slowed.
Through much of the lifespan of an average person, the brain has the capacity to retrieve stored information almost instantly — a process known as “recall.”
In a research paper published by the Oxford Journals titled Reduced resting-state brain activity in the “default network” in normal aging it was demonstrated that “functional connectivity of intrinsic brain activity was decreased” in elderly subjects versus younger subjects when scanned at a resting state. Furthermore, the authors stated that the reduction “remained significant” even when taking into account gray matter volume.
Neurologists state that the primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former is not 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.