That’s not always a good thing. Forgetting becomes a problem when, instead of involving people with golden hearts, it involves people in their golden years.
Forgetfulness does not seem like a significant enough issue, but it is. Many assume it’s always a normal part of aging, but is it okay to shrug off absentmindedness and, well, forget about it?
“What time is it?” Lita, 50 years old, asked her daughter, Sarah. It was the nth time Lita had asked; she just didn’t know it.
“Almost a decade ago, I remember her saying she had misplaced her vintage brooch. A month after that, I found her brooch inside the sugar bowl.” Sarah shrugged. “Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. It’s just plain old absentmindedness.”
Of course, Sarah was wrong. After all, forgetfulness is not always “just a normal part of aging.”
Absentmindedness, senility, second childhood: All these terms point to dementia, an umbrella of diseases wherein advanced age is the greatest risk factor, report Joshua Sonnen and colleagues in a 2007 study published in Annals of Neurology.
“We can’t always remember where everything is. We misplace our keys,” says Maria Ida Corazon Sibayan, M.D., a fellow of the Philippine College of Geriatrics Medicine. “But more often than not, we could recall what it was that we forgot.”
“However, with cognitive decline, memory loss soon becomes frequent and permanent,” warns Dr. Sibayan. A person suffering from dementia who forgets where she last placed her brooch might never again remember.
Who are at risk?
“Advanced age is the greatest risk factor,” Dr. Sibayan explains. That’s partly because neurodegenerative conditions are usually linked to diseases also common in the elderly, such as hypertension, high cholesterol and chronic smoking.
In a 2002 study by Lon White and colleagues published in Annals of the New York Academy of Science, people who suffered from minor strokes multiple times had a higher risk for dementia. Those who died without suffering from any brain lesions had the lowest risk.
Low educational attainment is another risk factor. In a 2008 study by Valentina Garibotto and others published in Neurology, a person with a higher educational attainment can create a “cognitive reserve” which he can tap if and when dementia sets in.
“If Alzheimer’s disease runs in the family, you are at a high risk for dementia, too,” Dr. Sibayan adds.
It’s Alzheimer’s if…
Alzheimer’s disease is just one of the many conditions that can cause dementia, but it’s indeed the most common, with almost half of all cases attributed to it.
Here are 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s disease: