Are you worried about forgetfulness? Find out what is normal regarding memory loss, aging and how to identify more serious issues.
- Memory loss and aging
- Normal forgetfulness vs. dementia
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
- When to consult a physician for memory loss
- Certain causes can reverse memory loss
- Memory loss compensation
- Exercises for the brain to improve memory
Memory loss and aging
All of us have misplaced keys or blanked out someone’s name. Or do we need their phone number? As you get older, these mistakes may become more important. You may be talking about a recent movie when you suddenly realize you don’t know the title. When you’re giving directions, you forget a familiar street. You may find yourself in the middle of the kitchen, wondering why you entered. Memory lapses are frustrating but are not always a cause for alarm. Memory changes due to age are different from dementia.
As you age, your brain’s functions can become less reliable. As a result, learning and remembering information takes longer. You once were faster than you were. You may even mistake slowing down your mental processes as true memory loss. In most cases, you can recall the information if given enough time. While it is true that some brain changes are inevitable as we age, major memory issues are not among them. It’s crucial to distinguish between age-related memory loss and symptoms indicating a cognitive problem.
Memory loss in old age and the brain
As the brain can produce new brain cells, memory loss is NOT a result of aging. However, as with muscle strength, you must use it to keep it. Daily habits, lifestyle, and everyday activities can greatly impact your brain’s health. Several ways exist to improve your cognitive abilities, protect your gray matter, and prevent memory loss.
In addition, many mental abilities, including:
- You can continue doing the things you do well and often.
- Your wisdom and experience will help you to make the most of your life.
- You have natural common sense and can form rational arguments and judgments.
Memory loss in old age: Three causes
- The hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory formation and retrieval, often degenerates with age.
- As we age, hormones and proteins which protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth decline.
- The brain blood flow of older people is often reduced, which can affect memory and cognitive abilities.
Normal forgetfulness vs. dementia
Most people’s occasional short-term memory lapses do not indicate Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Instead, they are simply a part of aging.
Memory lapses of the following types are common among older adults but are not considered signs of dementia.
- You may need to remember where you put things you use daily, like glasses or keys.
- You may need to remember the names of friends or associates or confuse one memory with another similar one. For example, you are calling your grandson by his son’s name.
- You sometimes need to remember an important appointment or enter a room without remembering why you are there.
- You may find yourself easily distracted, forgetting what you just read or the details from a conversation.
- You are not able to recall information that is “on the tip of your tongue.”
How does memory loss affect you?
The main difference between dementia and age-related memory loss is that the latter is not disabling. Memory lapses do not affect your ability to perform daily tasks or to achieve what you desire. Instead, a decline in intellectual abilities, such as language, abstract thinking, memory, and judgment, characterizes dementia.
Suppose you experience memory loss that is so severe and pervasive that it interferes with your hobbies, work, family, or social life. In that case, you might have Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that causes dementia.
Memory changes with age Dementia symptoms include:
Ability to carry out normal activities and function independently, despite memory lapses. Help with simple tasks, such as paying bills, dressing properly, or washing up. You need to remember how to do something you’ve done a lot.
Ability to describe and recall incidents of forgetfulness. Memory loss can cause problems when you cannot recall or describe specific incidents.
You may pause for a moment to remember the directions but do not get lost in familiar areas. However, you may get lost or confused, even when in a familiar place; you might need help following directions.
No problems with the conversation. Words often need to be corrected, misinterpreted or forgotten. Repeat stories and phrases in the same conversation.
The same level of judgment and decision-making abilities as before. Trouble making choices. Can be socially insensitive or show poor judgment.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Mild cognitive impairment is a stage between the normal cognitive changes that occur with age and the more severe symptoms of dementia.
MCI is characterized by memory, thinking, and judgment problems more severe than the normal changes associated with aging. However, it can be challenging to distinguish MCI from normal memory problems. It’s often a matter of degree. For example, as you get older, it is normal to have trouble remembering names. On the other hand, it’s not common to forget the names of close friends and family members and to still have trouble recalling them even after some time.
You and your family members or friends will likely know that your mental or memory function is declining if you have mild cognitive dysfunction. However, you can still function independently in daily life, unlike those with dementia.
It’s not inevitable that people with MCI will eventually develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Others with MCI may plateau in a milder stage of decline, while others return to normal. It is hard to predict the course of MCI, but the more memory impairment you have, the higher your chances of developing dementia.
- Losing or misplacing items is a common occurrence.
- Forget conversations, events, or appointments.
- I need help remembering the names of new acquaintances.
- It isn’t easy to follow the conversation.
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When to consult a physician for memory loss
When memory lapses are frequent or noticeable enough to cause concern for you or your family, it’s time to see a doctor. Make an appointment with your primary doctor as soon as possible to discuss the situation and get a complete physical exam. You may want to start taking steps now to avoid a small issue becoming a bigger one, even if you don’t have all of the symptoms that indicate dementia.
Your doctor will assess your risk factors, evaluate symptoms, eliminate reversible memory loss, and assist you in obtaining appropriate care. Early diagnosis may help treat reversible memory loss, slow the progression of vascular degeneration or improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
What to expect during your next doctor’s appointment
The doctor will ask you many questions about your memory.
- How long has your memory been a problem for you?
- What types of things are difficult to recall?
- Is the problem a gradual or sudden onset?
- Do you need help with everyday tasks?
Doctors will also ask about your medications, what you eat and sleep, if you have been stressed or depressed recently, and what else has happened. The doctor may also ask that you or your partner keep track of symptoms and check in with them after a few weeks. Finally, your doctor may refer you to a Neuropsychologist if your memory issue needs further evaluation.
Certain causes can reverse memory loss.
Memory loss does not automatically indicate dementia. You may also suffer from cognitive issues due to stress, depression, or vitamin deficiencies. It’s important to see a doctor for an official diagnosis when experiencing cognitive problems.
Read: What is causing your memory loss? ]
Even what appears to be a significant memory loss may be caused by treatable and reversible conditions, such as:
Depressive Disorder. A depressive disorder can cause you to lose your memory, making it difficult to stay organized, forget things, and accomplish tasks. Depression in older adults is common. This is especially true if you are less social or active than before or have recently gone through a major life change (retirement or a serious diagnosis, loss of a family member, or moving out of the home).
Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy brain function. A lack of B12 may even cause permanent brain damage. The nutritional absorption of older people is slower, making it harder for them to obtain the B12 their body and mind need. You may be more at risk if you drink or smoke. You can reverse memory problems if you treat a vitamin B12 shortage early. The treatment is a monthly injection.
Thyroid disorders. Your thyroid gland regulates your metabolism. If it is too high, you might feel like you need clarification. If it’s low, you could feel depressed. Memory problems, such as forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating, can be caused by thyroid problems. Medication can reverse symptoms.
Alcohol abuse. Too much alcohol is harmful to the brain and leads to memory loss. Alcohol abuse can also lead to dementia over time. Experts recommend limiting your drinking to 1-2 drinks per day due to the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Dehydration. Elderly adults are more susceptible to dehydration. Dehydration is a serious condition that can lead to confusion, drowsiness, and memory loss. Stay hydrated by drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day. In addition, you should be extra vigilant if your health is affected by diabetes, high blood glucose, diarrhea, or diuretics.
Medication side effects. Many prescribed or over-the-counter medications can cause cognitive problems and memory loss. It is more common among older adults, who can absorb and break down medications slower. Sleeping pills, antihistamines and blood pressure medications, arthritis, and muscle relaxants are all common medications that can affect brain and memory function.
Do you take three or more drugs at the same time?
Taking too many medications can cause cognitive problems, just as taking certain medications individually. Recent research has shown that the more medications one takes, the greater the risk of brain atrophy. In addition, researchers discovered that people who take three or more medications are most likely to experience gray matter loss. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your medications. Do not stop taking medications without consulting your doctor.