Memory loss normally comes with age. That’s generally correct, but not quite equally for everyone.
Genes are important to a certain level and research shows that physical activity plays a role as well, but….. You might have heard already that our brain is like our muscles-needs training and challenge to stay in shape. The more active a brain is, the less is the likelihood of a serious memory loss at old age.
It is important to avoid as much this condition as possible, not just because we fear to be seen as a silly, forgetful old man or woman, but because it could affect all aspects of our lives. Forgetting an important birthday, or to buy some groceries, turn off the heating, take the prescribed medication are just a few of them.
Where Does Normal Memory Loss at Old Age Stop Being Normal
If you forgot where your keys are, or can’t recall the new neighbors name, or have not shown up for an appointment with your dentist, because you forgot it, or entered the room and forgot why you entered it at the first place…..we all probably already have been there, done that. These are almost every day, common mild forgetfulness, memory glitches and might be just the result of a busy life, tasks and information overload.
What most of older people fear when they get in situations like these too often is that a dementia has begun, but that’s not always true. It usually still means a common mild forgetfulness, or it can be a sign of a brain slowing down, which then can not retrieve once stored information that effectively. It could be a result of some disease, more expressed at older age, or unhealthy diet, or even a side effect of medication.
Old Age Related Causes of Memory Loss
Actually, memory loss can occur at any age, for various reasons, but those closely related to old age are few.
As we age, all our body systems gradually decline – including the brain. The hippocampus, a complex part of the brain responsible for the formation and retrieval of memories, also can deteriorate with age, usually at 60-70…
A human brain has more than 80 billion nerve cells (neurons) Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other with the help of dozens and even hundreds of trillion synaptic connections. Transportation of information within the brain, such as memory encoding and retrieval is aggravated, as the branched extensions, receivers of chemical messages get retracted by the neurons and parts of the cerebral cortex, the gray mass where the most long-term information is being stored, also shrink as we age.
Our body produces hormones and proteins whose role is to protect and repair brain cells, as well as to stimulate neural growth. This process also declines with age.
The blood flow to the brain in elderly is often decreased. This can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.
Then, regardless of age, here are many causes of memory loss, some of which can be reversed with a treatment of the cause itself, in young or older people equally:
A very simple dehydration, if becomes severe, can lead to memory loss, drowsiness, confusion. Older people are more often known to become dehydrated, either because they do not feel the thirst and forget to consume liquids, or they suffer from diabetes, high blood sugar, or diarrhea. Sometimes at an old age, people do not think they need that much and they can even refuse to drink more than a few sips at a time. However, normally, a grown person should have an intake of about 6-8 glasses and everyone should see to it.
Depression will affect a person’s memory and he/she will have slow response to questions, be disoriented and forgetful. Treating the depression itself can improve the memory of the affected person.
Vitamin deficiency, mostly B12, can also produce symptoms of memory loss. Having a regular fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products’ intake should solve this problem. However, some people need to have injections of B12, as their body is incapable of absorbing it from food.
Thyroid-both hyper and hypo can cause poor concentration and forgetfulness. Treating the thyroid with he correct kind and correct dose of thyroid medication should help the condition.
Alcohol intake in excess, over a period, can also interfere with memory. No serious harm will be done by one or two occasions, but no one should regularly have more than one alcohol drink per day.
Side effects of medication. The most common of these are antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, painkillers, spasm controllers, sleeping pills, urinary incontinence pills, blood pressure and arthritis medication, antihistamines. If a significant memory loss is noticed, it should be by all means discussed with the doctor prescribing any of these medications. He might consider adjusting the dose or changing the medication itself to a more suitable one.
Short- vs Long-Term Memory Loss – Understanding the Difference
As for the long-term, there are many causes of short-time memory loss, as well: from the more severe schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, through depression, anxiety, or even common stress….. In these cases, once the condition improves, the loss can mostly be reversed.
Sleeping pills, anti depressants, some pain relief medications, cholesterol level lowering statins, blood pressure medications can also affect the short term memory.
Our brain is registering and processing thousands of information, images, thoughts and experiences every single day. Some of them will stay in the brain only for a few seconds or minutes and then will be forgotten. Some remain there for a couple of days, while some of them will be stored for many years or even forever.
Mostly, these short term memories remain there for anywhere between 30 seconds and several days. However, some will remain, usually when we make an effort to remember them, although sometimes even when we don’t. They are moved to the area of the brain that stores long term memories.
If a person can’t recall what happened five or ten minutes ago, but can still tell who his or her kindergarten best friend was and what was their favorite game, it usually means that only short time memory is lacking. This is because there are different ways the brain stores or accepts information. There is a working part of the brain, pretty much as a working memory within a computer. It is of very limited space, just for some information, so it quickly fills up and any new data kicks out one of the previous ones to make way for new facts and memories. The kicking out usually happens either as a replacement, when the previous data is lost, or to the area of short time memory, just for a short time, as it’s name says. From there the brain chooses important information to forward it to its final destination-the long-term memory.
How does it decide what’s important? Our whole body is dedicated to survival, so is the brain. Over the time through evolution it refined methods to sort of “predict” what can support it. (you can read more about it here) These data go deep down to the brain’s data “storage” and stay there forever. Although it might be sometimes difficult or even impossible to retrieve them from there if the link to them is not that strong anymore. So, in reality, there’s no such thing as a long-term memory loss, as our brain does not lose information from its permanent storage, we just become unable to find the prompt to search and the path leading to it, so it stays “lost” for us, deep down in the brain.
Both, short- and long-time memory loss can be a real problem when they interfere with everyday life tasks.
It becomes difficult to:
-care for yourself (personal care, meal preparation, shopping, domestic tasks…..)
-take medications safely (the proper dose at proper time, not forgetting it or taking twice…..)
-drive, especially alone
-execute everyday small tasks, like locking and unlocking the door, turning on and off the heating, answering the door bell safely determining who to open it to, and who not and so on…
Improving Memory at Old Age-Is It Possible?
The short answer would be: if not caused by some sort of dementia-yes! Is it easy? No!
The longer answer: Your memories of the day’s events are fortified during your sleep at night. A healthy normal good sleep is indispensable for building up your memories. Inadequate sleep is sometimes just a symptom of an underlying bigger problem. If you can’t think of the reason of your poor sleep, you should visit the doctor.
Otherwise, can an older person do something about it? The memory at an old age can not only be stopped from being lost but, on the contrary, it can be improved. It requires consistency, though-pretty much as exercising muscles-one or two occasions will not mean much. If you regularly “feed” your brain with new tasks, new challenges and lead a healthy life stile while doing so, it will thank you by keeping your memory fresh and easily accessible.
There is a wide range of brain”exercises” you can do, let’s mention just a few:
- crosswords, Sudoku, Scrabble, even online, maybe here
- serious, mind-challenging magazines, newspapers
- books that can be an interesting reading, but make you think
- puzzles, starting with fewer pieces and moving on to those of more, as you progress (many choices online here or here)
- playing chess, with a partner or online (one example can be found here)
- bridge or other challenging card games, with friends or you can play online here
- find a new interest, take a course of pottery, or woodcarving, painting, sewing
The links will lead you to free programs which can help you finding your favourites. You understand, the main point is to keep your brain working with something that you find interesting enough to keep you going on, especially when challenged.
There are also a few things that can help diminish effect of a milder memory impairment on your day-to day life:
- first, believe that you are not a “lost cause” and you can use your memory well enough
- do not postpone tasks that can be done now-otherwise part of your brain gets occupied by the thought of still having that task ahead
- get used to regularly take a look at a calendar or planner and enter all the important “to-dos” ahead
- do not leave your keys, phone, glasses just anywhere, find a permanent place for them and always put them there, so you will not spend time looking around the house when you need them
- use a mnemonic when you need to remember more items. For example:
–Bob’s friend sleeps deeply, snoring terribly.
–Brown fox spotted dangerous Sumatran Tiger.
–Brianna’s figure slimmed down, slightly though.
You need to go to the bakery, put fuel into your car, go to your son’s school, have an appointment with your dentist, do some shopping and you have tickets for theater tonight. You can come up with a mnemonic for anything you need to remember.
What Can You Do Now to Prevent Memory Loss Later
The most important items to be mentioned in the answer to this question are:
– take a good care of your overall health
– never neglect your brain, never stop challenging it
-do not forget to exercise, physically, at least twice a week.
-maintain a healthy weight
-treat illnesses you might have
-keep under control thyroid, diabetes, cholesterol or high blood pressure, sleep apnea if you suffer from these
-eat healthy meals, keep away as much as possible from fast food, sugary, high fat meals and sugary or, alcoholic drinks
-find as many things as you can that make you happy, satisfied, fulfilled, grateful
-keep your mind occupied with any of the above mentioned exercises, and
-never stop learning
-consider starting meditating
-pursue a hobby or other activity which will keep you socially active
When do you need to think about undergoing a medical examination for dementia?
As we mentioned already, when older people often catch themselves in forgetfulness, most of them fear that a dementia has begun, but that’s not always true. However, there are certain signs which indicate it still might be wise to see a doctor about it and be sure it isn’t. The results may confirm a developing dementia, but, even then, it’s better to know what to expect and to prepare for it the best possible way.
- Permanent short-time memory loss (if what the breakfast was, or who visited this morning can’t be recalled even later)
- difficult decision-making in simple issues (whether I’d have a fried or boiled egg, do I want to get dressed or not)
- having problems with execution of well-known tasks (cooking favorite meal, operating the TV or computer)
- having problems with planning a simple trip (to a familiar place, a friend or the usual grocery store)
- confusion about time, date, place (also poor judgment of the passing time)
- visual information processing (poor judgment of distances, differentiation of colors, especially dangerous for drivers)
- less engaging in conversations (due to forgetting what they wanted to say or what others said)
- misplacing important things, unlikely to be forgotten, like important documents, money, valuables, sometimes to the point where they accuse someone of stealing.
The doctor will prescribe medication and treatment if confirmed, only to slow down the development of the disease, as there is no cure for it yet. This will, however, make the life of the patient and the life of those around much easier.When you buy something from this website, I may receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you.