By in Science

Dementia - Is It Truly Loss of Memory?

"He's losing his memory; he's suffering from dementia." You've heard this before, possibly many times (unless you've "forgotten" it). But is this statement true as worded, or is it a bit misleading?

I'm not here to answer the question, but to get the reader to question the answer. As a person increasingly suffers dementia, is he actually losing his memory? Or is he simply losing his ability to access it?

Think a moment. As we get older, most of us probably experience times when we want to think of a person, thing, or event well-known to us. But we hem and haw or sit and think or just plain wait until it suddenly "comes to us." We didn't lose that memory, but for some reason or other, we could not manage to access it.

Is this true for dementia -- is it a temporary lapse of availability -- or is the memory actually lost?

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MegL wrote on May 20, 2022, 6:02 PM

As I get older, I find it more difficult to find the word I need, it's that "on the tip of my tongue" sensation. But I don't think I have dementia. On the other hand my sister in law DOES suffer from dementia. She forgets what you have told her inside about 3 seconds unless she is highly invested in it emotionally. For instance, her niece, my daughter had a baby last November and throughout the pregnancy, whenever it was mentioned, her response was "oh I didn't know that!" Yet, talk to her about her childhood and early adulthood and her memories are clear and vivid and her brother (my husband) confirms the accuracy. She speaks fluently, yet sometimes what she says is totally untrue, for instance, she talks about planes and helicopters flying over the house and the pilot shouting down to her asking if she wants to take a flight. These are false memories and she has no trouble accessing them. I think there is a difference between short and long term memory and how short term memories are transferred to long term memory. Her long term memory seems fine but her short term memory is practically non-existent, unless it is linked to an emotional shock of some kind.

VinceSummers wrote on May 20, 2022, 7:05 PM

If so, short term memory may be hard to create, hence hard to recall. But memory loss still might not be part of the picture. For how can one lose what one never had? However, if long term memory largely remains, what is lost may not actually be lost, but difficult to retrieve. And if it is retrieved incompletely, the individual may "fill in the blanks." None of this, of course, is spoken of as fact, but rather, as being a so-called "Devil's advocate."

MegL wrote on May 21, 2022, 5:43 PM

Filling in the blanks is typical of dementia, it's called confabulating. The person seems to be aware of something missing and they make something up to make it sound natural. I don't mean that they are deliberately lying but it's like my sister in law talking about the pilots in planes talking to her or thinking that someone is lying outside her front door at night and the police come and lift them.

VinceSummers wrote on May 21, 2022, 6:12 PM

I really have enjoyed your comments here, Meg. I do wish some others would check in. It would be great.

MegL wrote on May 21, 2022, 6:19 PM

Yes, it would.