Archive for the ‘the brain’ Category

Does Memory Malfunction in the Elderly Always Mean Dementia?

March 1, 2020

I have always had some momentary to long-term (up to three days) memory loss. When I got into my fifties, I noticed the symptoms became more pronounced. That’s when I began to worry that this was a neurological problem, not just a sign of “old age” approaching. Was I indeed beginning the stages of dementia?

The traditional medical (scientific) response to this phenomenon is that the brain naturally deteriorates, much like the other parts of the body, and that memory loss is a natural condition of aging. Thus, memory loss is a symptom of a ‘demented’ brain, i.e., a brain that is starting to deteriorate. Frankly, for better or worse, I did not want to believe my brain was getting worse. There must be another explanation.

As a technical writer, I knew that the computer was based on the basic structure of the brain. The two main parts are the hard drive, or memory storage unit, and the CPU, or central processing unit. When a user activates a search for information, the CPU sends signals to the hard drive to find the information, which is stored in very segmented parts of the drive. This is sort of like the brain, where different parts initiate different functions that are not necessarily logically (or systematically) connected.

When a command is input, the computer searches through the various sections of the hard drive to find and then connect the required information. Well, when you have a thought that requires information, such as the name of a person, a date, the name of a place, or even just a word that means what you need at the moment, why does this not work the same way? Perhaps the CPU has deteriorated a bit after many years, but why has it slowed down so much in gathering the information?

In my theory, it’s because the hard drive has accumulated so much information, maybe even approaching being full (assuming that there are inherent maximum capacities to various brains, as there are to various levels of computers), that it takes a lot longer for the CPU to find, assemble, and then put that information into a coherent, usable format. In other words, the more you learn, the more you have high-functioning thoughts that incorporate basic information into more complicated integration and processing of variables and potential outcomes. In a word, metacognition.

What evidence do I have for such a theory? Only personal experience, as well as anecdotal evidence from many other people.

How many of us have been speaking and wanted to say something, or been asked a question, or just seen a person we know we have met, and searched for information, only to come up short? Did our memory completely fail us? But then, suddenly, a couple of hours later, or in the middle of our sleep days later, we suddenly sit up and say: “Oh, right! That’s the name, or date, or other information I was trying to remember!” In my experience, it happens more frequently as I get older. Further, it seems to me that the more learned a person is and the more information they have stored in their brain, the more this time lapse seems to occur when trying to access various bits of its information.

Not too long ago, before a tennis match, I was speaking with a doctor I know who practices at Sutter Health in Oakland. We were speaking of this topic, and I broached my ideas to her. She thought there might be some merit, and brought up the idea to a group of her colleagues, including some neurologists. It seemed they had not thought of this possibility because medicine is extremely clinical and pathogenic, which means that they look for a physical solution before merely relationship-oriented, as in the amount of data acquired. However, she said that they did agree my ideas might be logical regardless of how much they were not clinical.

Frankly, I have no idea whether or not my speculation may be valuable or totally time-wasting to actual scientists. I only know that I do not consider myself to be ‘demented’ in the clinical sense. I never forget where I live or the important people in my life. When I forget tiny details—names, dates, places—they are usually not really of consequence to me. And, with many details, I often wake up in the middle of the night and say: “Oh! I do remember!”

So, I do not think my increasing memory lapses indicate actual signs of dementia. I just think my brain is being overloaded with too much information, some important and some trivial, for my CPU to bring it up instantaneously, as children and those with very little learning are able to do. My hard drive is just fine; it just takes me a little longer to get there than it used to. I can live with that.