Naming animals is one possible question on tests that doctors use to assess memory.
Senior Moments: A Sign Of Worse To Come?
April 11, 2011
an expert: Dr. Kirk Daffner, who directs the Mind-Brain Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Daffner is editor of a just-published report on age-related memory loss.
Daffner put Phyllis Hersch through a series of memory tests: repeating back strings of words and numbers, some mental arithmetic, and so on. They’re designed to see if a person can encode new memories, manipulate the information and recall it.
Hersch scored in the normal range, but Daffner checks up on her every six months or so to see if there’s any change.
Faulty Memory Vs. Not Paying Attention
Daffner says much of the time, what people experience as a memory problem is really a not-paying-attention problem.
… When you’re paying attention to all those things, even on a subliminal level, these piece help you remember that you shut the door. When you’re not, you may not retrieve that memory.
“What’s common as people age is that the speed at which information can be retrieved on demand is slowed,” … There are lots of reasons why brains get sluggish.
High blood pressure damages the wiring that connects different parts of the brain.
Poor sleep or excess alcohol are enemies of a nimble brain.
And many medicines — including common drugs to reduce stomach acid, control asthma or treat depression — can slow the brain down.
Many Have ‘A Little Bit Of Alzheimer’s’
Nearly 40 percent of people who die without dementia, or any measurable cognitive problems, have definite signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, says Dr. David Bennett, who directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
“If you look in the brains of older people, it’s hard not to have at least a little bit of Alzheimer’s pathology,” Bennett says. “It’s probably a much, much larger problem than we currently recognize.” Just as almost everybody has a little bit of heart disease after a certain age, Bennett says, a lot of people have “a little bit of Alzheimer’s.”
Bennett’s findings come from 16 years of studying thousands of older people who volunteered for the research when they had no cognitive problems. All agreed to donate their brains after death for study. Bennett acknowledges that the notion that many apparently healthy people are walking around with Alzheimer’s-like damage in their brains “could frighten a lot of people.”
But in fact, his studies also contain some really good news. Bennett says many people clearly are able to tolerate “a little bit of Alzheimer’s” in their brains — or even more than a little bit.
Some people are lucky when it comes to cognitive reserve. They inherit more of it. Perhaps 50 percent of cognitive reserve is genetically determined.
Education -– both the formal variety and rich life experiences -– also contribute.
But some people have bad luck. Their cognitive reserve gets depleted by loneliness, anxiety or depression.
Bennett says people who tolerate Alzheimer’s-like brain damage have certain things in common. “Having a purpose in life, conscientiousness, social networks, stimulating activities — all these things seem to be protective in terms of how your brain expresses whatever pathology it’s accumulating,” he says.