Memory Loss Can Come in Three Types

While writing this column, I was interrupted by an emergency phone call directing me to locate a nursing home for a client. At the same time, my 15-year-old daughter stomped into my office and said, “Mom, you are supposed to drive me to swim practice and you are late!”

As I scurried to the car with my fuming daughter, I could not find my car keys. Then, mentally mulling over the nursing home search, I took a wrong turn to the pool. When I eventually returned to my writing, I had forgotten my thoughts. Reflecting back on all the errors of the day, I panicked. Could this be the start of Alzheimer’s disease?

Fortunately for me, I had just read the recent US News and World Report article, “Losing Your Mind?” by Wray Herbert. He discusses in clear detail the most recent research on memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). I’m also reading “The Memory Manual: 10 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Memory After 50” by Lafayette author Betty Fielding.

According to both, my mind is still all right. I found my keys, quickly realized my driving mistake and remembered my writing thoughts. According to Herbet, I was having a normal memory problem that often increases with age called “set shifting,” or trying to concentrate on too many activities at once. Fielding advocates solutions to this difficulty in her chapter, “Increase Your Focus.”

Using her advice, before starting my day I could have written a schedule of the day’s anticipated activities and reviewed the schedule to avoid the schock of my daughter’s interruption. Also, setting an alarm could have helped to remind me of the appointment. While in the car, Fielding says I should have purposely focused my thoughts on the driving, “attending with my eyes, ears, mind and intuition.” Finally, I needed to calm my upset emotions, which made it hard to locate the car keys buried in my purse.

Herbet’s article describes a new diagnostic category of memory impairment called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which was conceptualized by the Mayo Clinic’s Ronald Peterson. Calling MCI “Alzheimer’s in evolution,” Peterson estimates that 80 percent of those with MCI will develop AD.

If you are wondering about the difference between normal aging memory loss, MCI, and AD, use this very rough estimate. Normal memory problems include misplacing your keys or having a word on the tip of your tongue that eventually comes to your awareness. MCI can manifest itself as missing important appointments or repeating the same question to your spouse. The signs of AD include forgetting how to plan and prepare a meal, having trouble dressing or performing personal hygiene, getting completely lost going to familiar places, and the inability to find a word, without the sense that it is on the tip of your tongue. Also, there is often a sudden personality change.

If you are really worried about yourself or a relative, talk to your doctor and schedule a thorough examination by a psychiatrist or neuropsychiatrist.

If you are slowing down a bit and want to fine-tune your memory, I recommend Fielding’s book. She describes short- and long-term memory, elaborates on sensory memory and working memory, and shows the physical basis for memory with clear diagrams of nerve cells. She urges readers to take care of their health, cope with stress and depression, enjoy life and continue to grow.

Fielding also reminds readers that “learning and memory, like physical skills, become stronger with exercise.”


To order “The Memory Manual,” call (800) 497-4909