What are the Chances of Losing Your Memory?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Severe memory loss is NOT a part of normal aging.

Yes, there are illnesses and medical conditions that can cause declines in brain health.  But no,  none of them are inevitable.  So what are the realistic chances of losing your memory as you age?

Many studies have looked at the prevalence of various problems that cause memory loss and other cognitive problems.  New figures from the Agency of Health Care Research and Quality, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show the prevalence of "identified" problems in the health care system, as reported through their home survey.

According to this survey, the reported prevalence of cognitive disorders by age group are:
  • Age 65-74: 1.1%
  • Age 75-84: 6.0%
  • Age 85+: 18.4%
Despite the fact that these figures include all cognitive disorders resulting in delirium, dementia, and/or memory loss, the reported prevalence is much lower than what we frequently see reported for Alzheimer's disease alone.  Here are a couple of considerations about why the figures may not match.

First, these data are based on "self-reporting" through a household survey.  Self reporting, as opposed to direct observation, is known to be somewhat inaccurate.  This is especially true among groups of people known to have memory or other cogntiive impairments.

Second, these data do not represent actual prevalence of problems.  Instead, they represent reported results from seniors on whether or not they have been clinically diagnosed with any particular problem.  Given the well documented fact that many (probably most) early stage problems go undetected for many years in primary care settings, this survey probably included people with cognitive problems who have not been diagnosed, and subsequently did not report them.

Despite the need to reconcile these data with other published findings, it is good to get a read on the prevalence of diagnosed/reported cognitive problems by age group, as a general guide toward future expectations.

Overall, the chances of facing some medical problem that will impair memory or cognition, are probably a little higher than noted in the figures above.  However, many of those problems are completely curable and all can be treated with some effectiveness.  Additionally, our ability to manage the most feared condition in this group, Alzheimer's disease, is improving each day.

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