Is Memory Loss a Normal Part of Aging?

Ronald Regan was one of the first celebrities to publicly announce and discuss his personal diagnosis and struggle with Alzheimer's disease. That admission immediately catapulted Alzheimer's disease into the public spotlight putting it in the forefront of the American consciousness. Alzheimer's disease may be the most common form of dementia but it is only one of a spectrum of disease that impacts cognitive/mental function.

As a person gets older, he made need a little more time to process new material, may occasionally forget where he left his keys or may need to write down a list of reminders for tasks; those are all normal parts of aging. However, memory loss is not considered a normal part of the aging process.

"Individuals who are experiencing memory loss should consult a physician to have a thorough physical exam which includes a complete history and physical, blood work and possibly brain imaging," states Theresa M. Redling, DO, FACP, geriatrician and the new medical director for Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center's Center for Geriatric Health and Disease Management.

"Not being able to recall significant events in one's life or requiring assistance in daily activities is cause for concern," she continues. Age and family history are considered risk factors for Alzheimer's dementia and related disorders. Cognitive impairment can be caused by a number of conditions including, stroke, depression, adverse medication reactions and Parkinson's disease or Lewy Body Dementia among others.

Pure memory impairment (mild cognitive impairment- MCI) should not be mistaken for dementia, a condition where basic functional activities are affected by abnormal brain function. However, MCI needs to be regularly monitored for worsening functional decline and potential development of Alzheimer's Dementia over time. Early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important with any of these disorders.

Once a diagnosis of dementia is made, the individual may be referred to a neuropsychologist or geriatric psychiatrist, both professionals that specialize in identifying and treating cognitive changes in the elderly. With improvements in technology, medications and therapies, individuals may be able to slow the progression of their disease. At a minimum, it provides the individual and family opportunities for advanced care planning and preparation for the future.

When faced with the diagnosis of dementia, whether it is Alzheimer's, or another form of dementia, it is important to realize that there is a tremendous amount of support available in the community and now at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, for both the individual diagnosed with the disease as well as the caregivers.

Dementia is a family illness. "As the dementia progresses, caregivers need to take the time to care for themselves without feeling guilty about getting self-time. When possible, it is also important to share the care-giving with other members of the family so as not to burn out," said Dr. Redling.

For more information or to make an appointment with Dr. Redling, please call 973.322.7636.