What Constitutes Old Age Memory Problems?

Posted on May 20, 2017 at 12:55 AM

I went to visit a friend who had recently been placed in assisted living.  I had lost touch with her over the last couple of years, becoming too busy in my life to keep much social contact going.  When I entered her room, I came upon a slightly slumped over, little old lady, watching the news in a wheelchair beside her made-up bed.  I touched her shoulder, gently, then came around to the other side of the bed to sit, before bombarding her with social chatter.  She immediately began the conversation, as I always remembered her doing, talking about her day, explaining what she was watching, how much she liked watching current events, how great I looked (I love this woman), why she was in assisted living, on, and on, she went.  She always did.  

Nothing changed here.  She was always good at holding conversation, and would, at some point, get around to asking about my life, and remembering things about me that I had shared over the years.  She's around 97 years old, so there is a lot of history about me she knows.  

Then, at some point, maybe about 20 minutes into the visit, my husband and I asked her a question, and she went right into a story about some other topic...just like that.  It wasn't a topic far off one of the others we had been talking about, but off enough that I was taken aback.  I didn't know what to say, except just continue on with the new topic of discussion.  Did she not hear the question?  Maybe, it was too personal a question, and she just didn't want to answer it, so she changed the subject.  For a brief moment, I thought, "What if she's losing her mental capacity?  What do I say?  What do I do?"  Then I thought, "Why do we have to jumpt to that conclusion?  This would have just been called 'old age' a few years ago."  

What is old age, and when should one be concerned about possible memory issues which require another's assistance?  When does mental capacity require a trip to the family lawyer?  I got some relief after receiving an email about memory issues.  Take a look at this infographic from The National Institute on Aging:

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