In a recent study published in The Gerontologist, authors identified the impact changes in memory (normal aging versus Mild Cognitive Impairment [MCI]) have on individual’s daily life. Individuals with MCI experience greater memory impairment and have much greater difficulty remembering newly learned information “decreased retention rates” than those with normal age related memory loss. MCI is more closely associated with Alzheimers dementia although not all people with MCI will go on to develop Alzheimers.
Common memory issues (forgetting names of friends, misplacing household items and repeating themselves in conversations) were experienced by both study groups with the MCI group reporting more frequent and intense occurrences. Although negative emotional experiences due to the memory loss were expressed by both groups, people with MCI described stronger emotional reactions including being “frustrated, depressed and generally inadequate.”
Variations in how the two groups handled memory changes were also noted. In contrast to the normal memory loss group, individuals with MCI identified social withdrawal as a consequence of the memory loss. This included:
- Not getting out as frequently
- Withdrawing from social occasions
- Lack of context regarding their social relationships.
In addition, individuals with MCI described feelings of social exclusion:
- Hesitant to speak due to the possibility of not being able to recall details.
- Being “cut off” by conversation partners.
Both groups reported changes in their spousal relationships. An interesting difference in this change is that the normal memory loss group said this change evolved into a “partnership” with each spouse helping the other compensate. In the MCI group, their spousal relationship shifted to be more one sided. In a social context, the MCI group came to rely on their spouses to fill in the gaps for them.
The change in memory affected how the two groups participated in leisure activities. The normal memory loss group understood the link between “intellectual engagement and brain health and actively looked for cognitively engaging activities” (puzzles, fitness classes and late life learning opportunities). The MCI group demonstrated a decrease in their leisure activities often giving up leisure activities they had enjoyed due to the memory issues.
Both groups reported finding ways to “compensate” for their memory loss. Strategies for those with MCI included: external memory aids (lists/calendars) and physical reminders (relying on spouses, putting objects in plain sight). For those with normal memory loss, they also increased their use of external memory aids but they reported making an effort to “simplify, simplify and simplify” (i.e. focusing on one thing at a time).
The use of external memory aids/compensatory strategies was viewed by both groups as having a positive consequence for them. These strategies were viewed as helping them with self-esteem and being able to cope with the changes in their memory.