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Memory changes – What’s ‘Normal’?

submitted by Lauren Schwabish, M.S., CCC-SLP for Friends Life Care

Ever walk into a room and forget what you went there to do? Or have that “tip of the tongue” feeling when you see your neighbor but can’t remember their name? For older adults, these experiences aren’t just annoying, they feel like a warning sign: Decline Ahead.

Individuals with a family history of dementia may worry that the inevitable has arrived. Others assume that, with age, everyone develops dementia, as if we are all designed to unravel cognitively. The truth is normal aging does change how our brains work. By understanding what’s normal (and what’s not), we can alleviate the anxieties and gain some perspective to make memory issues more tolerable.

Fluid versus Crystallized Intelligence

According to researchers, skills that are expected to change are known as “fluid intelligence”, and they start declining in our 30s. These include speed and capacity for learning new information, solving problems, and maintaining complex attention skills.

What remains strong with age is “crystallized intelligence”, which is built through knowledge and experience, such as remembering historical facts, locations, and vocabulary. While we may get slower and experience occasional retrieval errors, the quality of our thoughts and conversations remains steady.

What is Normal?

Knowing we can anticipate some “normal” changes doesn’t mean brain aging is the same for everyone.  There is plenty of variety in “normal aging”. Health concerns, physical, or sensory changes, including vision loss or hearing impairment, may create a bigger impact for certain people.

The Dementia Society of America’s 22 Clues is a helpful resource to recognize symptoms associated with abnormal brain changes, including dementias. You can always talk with your health care professional about what successful aging looks like for you.

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