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Friday, May 30, 2008

Forgetting is just the opposite of remembering

Approach middle age, and it's hard not to notice that your recall is flickering. This, we're reassured, is perfectly normal--all your friends are complaining about the same thing, aren't they?--and yet it doesn't feel normal. You don't just have your mind, after all; you are your mind, and nothing threatens your well-being so much as the feeling that it's at risk. What's more, while most memory loss is normal, at least some people must be part of the unlucky minority that develops Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Why not you?

Alzheimer's is expected to strike 34 million people globally by 2025 and 14 million in the U.S. alone over the next 40 years. Half of all people who reach age 85 will exhibit symptoms of the disease. That, however, means that the other half won't. And since average U.S. life expectancy currently tops out at 80.4 for women and only 75.2 for men, by the time your 85th birthday rolls around, you're not likely to be troubled by Alzheimer's disease--or anything else.

Still, that doesn't make it any easier when you forget to pick up the dry cleaning or fumble to recall familiar addresses. The good news is, science is as interested in what's going on as you are. With better scanning equipment and knowledge of brain structure and chemistry, investigators are steadily improving their understanding of how memory works, what makes it fail, how the problems can be fixed--and when they can't.

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