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The Difference between Normal Age-Related Forgetfulness and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Normal age-related forgetfulness and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Developing Alzheimer’s is a major fear of older adults and seniors. Awareness of memory slips and difficulties with names and vocabulary begin to make seniors nervous that there is something wrong. More than half of all people ages 65 and older complain of cognitive difficulties, but not all cognitive difficulties are signs of oncoming dementia.

Normal age-related forgetfulness

normal age-related forgetfulness - home care torontoChanges in your body can affect memory loss as you become older. Once you reach your 20s, you slowly start to lose brain cells, and the number of brain cells lost increases with age. Your body also begins to make fewer of the chemicals needed by your brain cells to work properly. These changes affect how the brain stores recent memory, resulting, for example, in your forgetting the address of a place from which you just came. This type of memory loss is normal in an older person. You can use techniques to help you remember small details, such as keeping a “to do” list in a separate notebook; using a calendar to remember appointments; keeping things you use every day, like a house key, in the same place; and repeating names to yourself when you meet new people.

Listed below are signs of normal age-related forgetfulness. They are usually slight cognitive problems or occasional lapses in memory, unnoticeable to family and friends, and probably undetectable to a physician.

Normal age-related forgetfulness can include:

  1. Transcience – the tendency to forget facts or events over time.
  2. Absentmindedness – forgetting where you put your pen. Usually lapses in memory due to not paying attention.
  3. Blocking – Someone asks you a question and the answer is right on the tip of your tongue — you know that you know it, but you just can’t think of it.
  4. Misattribution – occurs when you remember something accurately in part, but misattribute some detail, like the time, place, or person involved. As you grow older, your memories grow older as well.
  5. Suggestibility – is the vulnerability of your memory to the power of suggestion — information that you learn about an occurrence after the fact becomes incorporated into your memory of the incident, even though you did not experience these details.
  6. Bias – Even the sharpest memory isn’t a flawless snapshot of reality. In your memory, your perceptions are filtered by your personal biases — experiences, beliefs, prior knowledge, and even your mood at the moment. Your biases affect your perceptions and experiences when they’re being encoded in your brain. And when you retrieve a memory, your mood and other biases at that moment can influence what information you actually
  7. Persistence – Most people worry about forgetting things. But in some cases people are tormented by memories they wish they could forget, but can’t. The persistence of memories of traumatic events, negative feelings, and ongoing fears is another form of memory problem. Some of these memories accurately reflect horrifying events, while others may be negative distortions of events.

People suffering from depression are particularly prone to having persistent, disturbing memories.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

normal age-related forgetfulness - home care north yorkMild cognitive impairment causes cognitive changes that are serious enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them. Your family and close friends also may notice a change. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day life and usual activities.

MCI is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has “slipped.” Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later progressing to dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.

Symptoms of MCI may be picked up by an alert physician. Many people will not decline further than this point. Notwithstanding, a majority do progress to Mild Alzheimer’s within two to four years. People with MCI may exhibit:

  • Problems remembering names, words for objects
  • Difficulties functioning at work and in social settings
  • Problems remembering newly-read material
  • Misplacing important items with increasing frequency
  • Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or interpreting instructions
  • Decline in organizational skills and the ability to plan
  • Repeating questions and evident anxiety
  • Beginning to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments

People with MCI may have memory lapses when it comes to information that is usually easily remembered, such as conversations, recent events or appointments. People with MCI may also have trouble judging the amount of time needed for a task, or they may have difficulty correctly judging the number or sequence of steps needed to complete a task. The ability to make sound decisions can become harder for people with MCI.

Not everyone with mild cognitive impairment has Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, MCI is due to depression or a temporary medical complication. The same procedures used to identify preclinical Alzheimer’s disease can help determine whether MCI is due to Alzheimer’s disease or something else.

People with MCI often have difficulties with day-to-day memory, but such problems are not bad enough to be defined as dementia.

If you have MCI, you may also experience:

  • Depression
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy

There’s no single cause of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), just as there’s no single outcome for the disorder. Symptoms of MCI may remain stable for years, progress to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, or improve over time.

The strongest risk factors for MCI are:

  • Increasing age
  • Having a specific form of a gene known as APOE-e4, also linked to Alzheimer’s disease — though having the gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience cognitive decline

Other medical conditions and lifestyle factors have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive change, but the evidence for these risk factors is less clear. These risk factors include:

  • Diabetes – fluctuations of blood glucose may contribute to the laying down of plaques and tangles in the brain. Lowers good cholesterol.
  • Current smoking – increases blood pressure. Lowers good cholesterol
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure – applying pressure to the tiny blood vessels in the brain damages them
  • Elevated cholesterol – linked with blood glucose levels, and linked with higher levels of amyloid plaque in the brain.
  • Lack of physical exercise – exercise can lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Infrequent participation in mentally or socially stimulating activities

People with MCI have a significantly increased risk — but not a certainty — of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Overall, about 1 to 2 percent of older adults develop dementia every year. Among older adults with MCI, studies suggest that 6 to 15 percent develop dementia every year.

If you are worried about your future brain health, lowering your risk factors is something we can do right now to decrease our chances of developing dementia. See our blog post for more information.

As a home care company in Toronto and North York, Retire-At-Home Services is aware that developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia is a very real fear for older adults.  We hope that this page of information can help you, and if you are caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, we can help with companionship, personal care like bathing or dressing, meal preparation, live-in care, and palliative care.  We are a full suite nursing and home care company.

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