Here’s How to Recognize the Difference
Ever walk into a room and forget why? Forget where you put the keys? Fail to remember someone’s name?
Age-related memory loss is normal for everyone. We all begin to lose some memory sometime in our 50s. In fact, the ability to recall new information can begin to slip even in our 40s.
The same is true for your loved one who may be forgetting even the simplest of things these days. Memory will naturally slip more—and more often—in late life, especially after age 75 when the process of remembering takes more time. Yet those lapses in memory aren’t necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Research indicates that older individuals may become more easily distracted than younger ones making it more difficult to stay focused, and giving the appearance of memory loss.
What’s more, a younger person who forgets a name or can’t find the right word will likely shrug it off. An older adult in the same situation may worry that he or she is "losing it." Researchers say that fear of "losing it" may itself cause memory issues.
I'm okay, you'r...who again?
It's common for people of all ages to forget from time to time. Forgetfulness can be described as not being able to remember something at a specific time, but the memory usually returns later.
Normal forgetfulness may include:
Recent memory loss that affects job skills.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks.
Problems with language and difficulty putting coherent thoughts together.
Repeatedly misplacing things and putting them in inappropriate places.
Changes in mood or personality.
Dementia is not a disease itself, but a symptom that accompanies another disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common dementia-causing illness affecting almost 4 million people in the U.S. It disrupts the normal signals between brain cells and forms abnormal and toxic proteins called "plaques" that destroy surrounding cells.
Could it be something else?
There are other less serious and potentially reversible causes of memory loss that often affect older people. A thorough medical exam is necessary to diagnose them. Here are some potential causes to discuss with a physician:
Thyroid deficiencies. Low hormone levels from the thyroid gland can cause memory loss.
Anemia. A red blood cell deficiency results in lower-than-normal oxygen levels in the blood, which can trigger fatigue, loss of concentration, and memory lapses.
Depression. A form of mental illness that affects nearly 20% of seniors, depression can induce feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, loss of concentration, and memory lapses.
Nutritional disorders. Malnutrition or over-nutrition may affect memory.
Head injuries. Trauma from a fall or accident can cause memory impairment and other memory associated problems.
Brain tumors. They produce swelling and can impair memory.
Strokes. These small leaks in the brain's blood vessels or blockages of blood flow can starve oxygen in the brain, causing paralysis, speech impairment, and memory loss.
Perhaps the biggest, reversible cause of memory loss is due to medications. The average American senior takes five different prescriptions and three nonprescription medicines or supplements daily. Some drug interactions can cause memory loss.
To compound the problem, individuals who have numerous health problems often see different doctors who may not be fully aware of their patients' prescription intake. It's important to share your loved one's entire prescription profile with every physician and keep each healthcare provider apprised of any changes
What's to be done?
Some amount of memory loss is inevitable for all of us. But as a caregiver, there's a lot you can do to help slow the decline and even reverse some loss in your loved one.
Instilling positive lifestyle habits is the best measure for protecting memory. This includes ensuring your loved one receives a healthy and balanced diet, and takes the right nutrients and vitamins-vitamins C, E, B6, B12, and folate-which can help protect the brain.
Finally, both physical and mental exercises are crucial to a healthy mind. Be sure your loved one benefits from some form of appropriate exercise, like walking or aqua-fitness. Then take time to play some board games, solve puzzles, or learn a new skill or hobby together. Doing so will empower your loved one, and keep you both sharp in the days ahead!
March 21, 2008
Here’s How to Recognize the Difference