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Feeling forgetful? If so, you need to remember this

Teresa Tanoos's picture
CDC study finds 1 in 8 baby boomers report suffering memory loss and confusion

Are you a baby boomer and feeling forgetful? If so, you’re not alone. One in eight Americans 60 years old and over report deteriorating memory loss, according to a large government study.

And it’s the youngest of the boomer generation that are most concerned, as are others who raise concerns over the possibility of a future Alzheimer’s “crisis” as baby boomers get older.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed a survey of 59,000 people in 21 states, and they found that nearly 13 percent of the baby boomer generation reported increased confusion or memory loss over the past year, which was getting worse over time. Indeed, one-third of those same boomers reported confusion or memory loss so severe that it interfered with their daily functioning at work, home, and in their social life.

This is the first self-reported survey of memory loss, so drawing conclusions from it has been difficult said Angela Deokar, a public health adviser at the CDC.

“This is the first time we have such data,” Deokar said, adding that future surveys would examine why those between the ages of 60-64 appeared to especially suffer as a result of their memory loss. While the survey found 12 percent in that age group reported having confusion or memory loss, nearly 45 percent of that same group reported that it interfered with daily life or work.

Interestingly, the complaints by the 60-64 year old boomers were worse than what their older counterparts aged 85 and older reported – with only 38 percent of those 85 and older reporting that memory loss or confusion interfered with their daily lives.

“These findings suggest a need for future studies to examine the relationship of age and functional difficulties caused by increased confusion or memory loss,” Deokar said. However, only 35 percent of those who reported memory loss said they had discussed their symptoms with a health care provider, making it uncertain as to whether they were just in denial or were simply experiencing less severe symptoms of memory loss.

“Some say ‘Oh, it’s just a normal part of aging.’ It’s not,” said Matthew Baumgart, senior director of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, which is analyzing the CDC results.

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“When one in eight Americans 60-plus says they are having memory problems, then we continue to have a problem and things are not going to get better for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Baumgart also mentioned that even though 12.7 percent reported worsening memory loss in the past 12 months, that did not necessarily mean they were developing Alzheimer’s disease, although memory loss is a hallmark symptom of the disease. Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and continues to be the fastest growing threat due to the aging population.

“There is definitely a stigma surrounding this disease and 80 percent not talking to their doctor is an indication of that,” Baumgart said.

The study, which was conducted in 2011, only included the first five years of the baby boomer generation who turned 60. “We’ve got another 15 years to come,” he said.

Consequently, that could spell trouble for our nation’s health care system because Alzheimer’s and dementia are already two of the costliest health problems – and, as Baumgart points out, most of those who suffer from these illnesses eventually need nursing home care.

According to Baumgart, most patients with Alzheimer’s live four to eight year after diagnosis, but many can live for 20 more years. Moreover, he says, about a third of those with Alzheimer’s live alone and aren’t even aware of their symptoms.

“No treatments will slow the advance of the disease, but a diagnosis can allow a patient to plan for future care,” Baumgart said, stressing the importance of early detection.

The director of the CDC’s Healthy Aging Program, Lynda Anderson, said that participants in the study were clearly told it was about memory loss deteriorating in the past 12 months.

“We prefaced the questions by telling them it was not about losing your keys or forgetting a face, like we all do sometimes," Anderson said.

SOURCE: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), May 10, 2013