Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

What we need to know about age related memory loss

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 22 June 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1502
  1. Gary W Small (, Parlow-Solomon professor on aging
  1. UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, Suite 88-201, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA

    Memory changes cause concern to many patients as they grow older. Gary Small provides reassurance and gives a strategy for assessing age related memory loss and protecting brain health

    As doctors and scientists have focused more attention on Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, patients are expressing greater concern about their common, age related memory changes. When results of new research on early detection and prevention reach a wider audience, our patients often come to the office with questions about what they can do to preserve their memory abilities as they age. Many of today's doctors trained during a time when minimal information was provided on these topics during their medical training. This paper will provide a practical strategy for assessing age related memory loss and will discuss interventions that may or may not protect brain health.

    Summary points

    Patients with mild memory loss are common in clinical practice; if their symptoms warrant a diagnosis of dementia, treatment with cholinesterase inhibitor drugs is needed

    Doctors need to be cautious about unproved treatments for slowing brain ageing because of potential side effects

    Lifestyle choices may protect people with mild forms of age related memory loss from future decline: essentially, what is healthy for the body is healthy for the brain

    The risks of these interventions are minimal and are not likely to outweigh the many benefits

    Sources and selection criteria

    The viewpoints presented were based on my clinical experience and a databased literature review. I selected articles with Medline searches using key words relevant to the theme of this review, emphasising peer reviewed journals and data from controlled clinical trials or methodologically sound epidemiological studies when available.


    With age comes the increasing likelihood of developing memory loss. The mildest form, age associated memory impairment, is characterised by self perception of memory loss and a standardised memory test score …

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