Memory & Aging

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Memory loss has long been recognized as a common accompaniment of aging. The inability to recall the name of a recent acquaintance or the contents of a short shopping list are familiar experiences for everyone, and this experience seems to become more common as we age. Over the last few decades, the medical community has changed its view of memory loss in the elderly. These problems were viewed in the past as inevitable accompaniments of aging, often referred to as “senility” or “senior moments.” More recently, physicians have shifted their view of memory loss, such that memory impairment of a certain degree is now is considered pathological, and thus indicative of some kind of disease process affecting the brain. The threshold most physicians use to make this judgment is that memory loss has progressed to such an extent that normal independent function is impossible; for instance, if one can no longer successfully manage one’s own finances or provide for one’s own basic needs. This degree of cognitive impairment has come to be referred to as dementia. Dementia has many potential causes, the most common of which is probably Alzheimer’s Disease. However, many older individuals may complain of memory problems, but still manage to independently accomplish all their customary tasks. Usually, their ability to function well is based on compensation for these difficulties, such as increased reliance on a calendar or on reminder notes, lists, etc. In some cases, these memory difficulties are a sign that worsening memory loss is on the horizon. Until recently, physicians were not able to provide any specific information concerning the significance of these complaints, or what they mean for the future. However, in the last few years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of clinical research studies focusing on patients with these complaints. Although much more work needs to be done, the characterization of this problem and its outcome is much better now...
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