As the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF), it’s my job to stay on top of advances in the field of Alzheimer’s research. Recently, a number of articles in the medical literature have caught my attention. They are focused on a particular question that concerns most Baby Boomers like me: “Is memory loss just a normal part of aging?”
Many of my patients in their fifties, sixties, and older notice that they occasionally forget things like a name, face, or where they put their keys. They wonder whether this behavior is normal, or if it is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a reasonable worry: Alzheimer’s disease is reaching epidemic proportions and recent surveys by the Alzheimer’s Association and others reveal that it is the Baby Boomers’ biggest health fear.
answer to that question used to be, “Yes, we all experience some memory loss as we age. Don’t worry—it’s not Alzheimer’s.” Indeed, it was once thought that a little memory loss was an expected and accepted part of the normal aging process. There was even a term for it: Age-Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI). It included a general slowing of mental functions such as processing, storing, and recalling new information. It also included a general decline in the ability to perform tasks related to cognitive function such as memory, concentration, and focus.
But here’s the rub: AAMI was never a clinical diagnosis, even though many physicians, lay people—and, yes, even yours truly—thought otherwise. Instead, AAMI is a technical diagnosis. It’s made by a psychometric test, not by actual clinical symptoms.