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Memory - Dementia: Age-related Memory Pathologies

aging differences aging psychology smith edited

So far, the discussion has been limited to healthy older adults. For most of this research, good health is a requirement for participation in the research. A small percentage of older adults, however, develop dementias that have a primary symptom of memory loss. There are many types of dementia, the most common one being Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for over two-thirds of all cases.

Because there are memory changes associated with normal, healthy aging, it is very difficult to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and other dementias early. There are many neuropsychological memory tests that can determine the progression of the disease once it has been established, but it is much more difficult to determine the early signs of dementia that distinguish Alzheimer's disease from normal memory change and that could be used as a diagnostic test. Unfortunately, the types of memory that are associated with very early dementia (episodic memory and working memory) are the very ones most affected in normal aging (Hodges). This means that the boundary between healthy memory change and unhealthy memory change is often not clear. One possible early difference is in the ability to remember things after retention intervals (delayed recall). One of the earliest symptom of Alzheimer's disease seems to be the loss of newly learned information after delay intervals (Albert and Killian). Forgetting rates often are the same in healthy adults if information is learned to the same criterion of performance. Alzheimer's patients, on the other hand, show greater delayed recall and more forgetting over the retention interval.

Very accurate cognitive diagnosis, however, remains difficult until the patient reaches the mild to moderate level, when other memory changes occur that are not typically associated with normal aging except for the very old (e.g., semantic memory and visuospatial memory). Category fluency (generating instances of categories) and providing verbal definitions seem to show the greatest sensitivity to early Alzheimer's disease (Hodges).



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