Normal Aging, Memory and the Fear of Alzheimer's

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • It can be confusing! Memory is not as reliable as most people think. So when we get worried about memory lapses and find ourselves unable to recall details of events in our lives it's frequently nothing to worry about. But, as we age, we do worry more about the times when memory fails us. We hear so much about equating age with senility that we often feel Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia has arrived, or is just around the corner.


    In a recent first, a large telephone survey was carried out by psychology professors Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris of the University of Illinois

    They sought to measure our intuitive beliefs about how our memory works. They found people tend to believe that memory is vivid and accurate. So accurate, that nearly two thirds of the 1500 respondents likened it to a video camera that can be replayed back later. Nearly half thought memories were unchanging, and nearly 40% felt that memory was so reliable that someone should be convicted of a crime even where only one confident witness gave evidence.

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    Psychologists can prove many of our beliefs about memory are misplaced, that memories can be manipulated, and they can be very unreliable. So while confident witnesses are more reliable in their testimony, they are still wrong about 30 percent of the time. Memory becomes distorted with time.


    Memory causes problems for doctors too. They can find making the distinction between what is age appropriate deterioration in memory and what is a sign of a medical condition difficult. The diagnostic criteria are still being debated as no uniform decline in memory occurs with aging. Research does indicate that normal aging is associated with some deterioration in memory function. Deficits in attention, accuracy and processing speeds of information can result in an overall decline in short term, immediate memory.


    Testing for memory deficits that may indicate diseases such as early Alzheimer's

    have their own problems too. Older people tend to perform better in some memory tests probably because of their increased overall knowledge. The better educated can score higher even when disease is present. That's why it can take time and lots of tests before an accurate diagnosis and treatments are offered.


    If you are worried about your memory or that of a loved one get a referral to a doctor that specializes in dementia. Diagnostic uncertainty can mean that effective treatments are sometimes delayed unnecessarily.


    On the other hand you may get the all clear. Don't live with the fear, go to see your doctor!


Published On: August 19, 2011