To Forget: Strategy or Memory Loss?

There are many reasons to forget. Forget who really forgives, unimportant facts are forgotten; one forgets because of being tired or in order to get on with one’s life. To forget does not necessarily indicate memory loss.

Alba Rosa Rodriguez, an octogenarian Colombian woman in Miami, remembers milestones from her childhood, such as the death of Carlos Gardel when she was barely five years old or pleasant memories such as horseback riding with her father in parades that were carried out in the town where her father was the mayor. However, sometimes she forgets where she placed her address book, or the medicines she’s supposed to take at specific hours. Her daughter, Angela, tells that a couple of years ago, Alba Rosa became disoriented upon leaving a store. How does one recognize if it is simple forgetfulness that can be considered normal or, if because of age and other factors, there is a degenerative condition that requires medical attention?

The School of Medicine at Harvard University recently published a special report that highlights the characteristics that help to establish the difference between momentary lapses of memory, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

It establishes, for example, that if the person complains of memory loss but can give the details of the episode of the forgetfulness, then it is simply normal forgetfulness, perhaps accentuated by aging, as in the case of Grandmother Alba Rosa. If the person cannot provide details of the episode of the memory loss, or actions performed in the recent past, or recognize people close to him/her, it could be dementia. If it gets to the point that the person does not recognize his/her familiar surroundings when walking around or driving, and it takes hours to return; if the person cannot operate household appliances such as the dishwasher having been able to do so in the past, and loses interest in social activities, it could mean Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Jorge Marcos, specialized geriatric neurologist affiliated with the Mercy Hospital in Miami, assures that the memory problems in older adults, at any stage, radically affect family and society. “The loss of memory over time presents a condition known as dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most frequent type of dementia. Current statistics show that one out of every eight persons over the age of 65 years, will develop this disease, and it will plague almost 50% of the population from 85 years of age and up.

Memory problems affect relatives, and this disease becomes disabling. Alzheimer’s affects between 50% and 75% of those suffering from dementia, adds the expert and emphasizes that the projections of those who will have this disease in the case of the new generation of elderly people in the United States will reach 13 million by the year 2050, bearing in mind the stUdies by the National Alzheimer’s Society.

It must be clarified here that dementia is a degenerative and chronic disease that affects the quality of life of the person suffering from it.

“Dementia,” explains Dr. Marcos, “presents symptoms such as: language problems, with the inability to express what one thinks, babbling and inability to find adequate words; memory loss with inability to recognize people; motor problems such as clumsiness in movements; physical problems such as inability to control urine; mental problems involving logic; personality problems with symptoms of depression and apathy; sleep disorders, either insomnia or the need to sleep for periods of time.”

In addition to Alzheimer’s as a cause, dementia is caused by vascular dementia, which is a deterioration of the circulation of blood in the brain causing a loss of its functions. However, there are other causes such as the lack of vitamin 812, alcohol use, brain tumors, hydrocephalus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, infections and AIDS, among others.

“Forgetfulness is normal at any age and can be caused by stress, lack of sleep, trying to do too many things at the same time, but the information is recovered within some time. Up to this point, forgetfulness is normal. Attention must begin to be paid when the older adult presents minimal cognitive alteration, even though he can manage his finances, hygiene, and daily activities. Once the person loses his independence because he can no longer cook, dress himself, gets lost or does not recognize, this becomes a concern,” warns Dr. Marcos.

The specialist recommends being on the alert and prevention “because the important thing is early detection of the disease, since there are minimal cognitive alterations such as endocrine alterations that can be reversed.” He explains, for example, that the deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause neurological disorders such as memory loss, which can be resolved with a supplement.”

By  Dr Jorge Marcos

Jorge Marcos MD, LLP