Memory slips: what’s normal and what’s not?

Where did I park the car? Did I leave my phone in the basement again? What is that woman’s name?

These are common examples of the memory loss that many of us experience as we age. We wonder which memory slips are part of normal, healthy aging and which are signs that something more serious is going on.

Adults experiencing memory problems often delay going to their family doctor because they are unsure whether they have a problem worth investigating. Even a couple of years’ delay can waste precious time in diagnosing a brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s, at its earliest stage when treatments are most effective.

To that end, Baycrest, a global leader in developing and providing innovations in aging and brain health, recently launched the development of an online self-assessment tool that will enable aging adults to assess their cognition (memory, attention and problem-solving skills) from the comfort and privacy of their home computer.

Tool will assess whether individual is experiencing normal memory problems or something worth investigating
World-renowned clinicians and researchers at Baycrest are leading the development of this tool. It includes a short personal questionnaire and several cognitive tasks that assess immediate and delayed memory, attention, executive function (high-level abilities such as planning and organizing) and consistency. The aim is to indicate whether the individual is experiencing normal age-related thinking and memory problems or a more severe problem — such as mild cognitive impairment — that requires a visit to their doctor.

For those individuals experiencing normal age-related cognitive changes, knowing their performance falls within the range expected for their age could alleviate their anxiety and reduce unnecessary visits to health professionals. For those whose score may not be within the normal expected range, combining a timely visit to the doctor’s office along with the tools’ ability to identify specific areas of difficulty would help doctors determine whether or not further investigation is warranted.

The cognitive screening tool is scheduled for a market launch this summer and will be the first product available from Cogniciti Inc, a for-profit company created by Baycrest and MaRS (Canada’s leading innovation centre) to bring the science of Baycrest to the world. CARP members are invited to help test the cognitive screening tool.


So what is normal, and what’s not?
• It is normal to get stuck for an acquaintance’s name, but it is not normal to get stuck more than momentarily for the name of a loved one;
• It is normal to get lost in unfamiliar places, but it is not normal to get lost in a place that you go to frequently ;
• It is normal to get home from the store and realize that you forgot to buy an item or two, but it is not normal to get home and forget that you even went to the store;
• It is normal not to know the exact date (to be off by a day or two), but it is not normal to be completely disoriented in time (e.g., think it is 1944).

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