Fading Memory? When to Be Concerned
As we get older, our memories naturally start to change a bit, and many seniors wonder if they are in early stages of cognitive decline or if what they are experiencing is normal. Find out about normal memory loss and how to tell the difference between memory lapses and serious health concerns below.
It's natural to feel nervous when you forget something, knowing that Alzheimer's disease now affects 5.3 million Americans. But a memory slip doesn't always mean the worst.
According to KPHO, the following five situations point toward normal, age-related memory loss. According to the Duke University Medical Center and a team of researchers from other top universities, about 1 in 3 people over the age of 70 have some form of memory impairment. Signs of memory loss can occur much sooner than age 70, however. Simply getting older can slow down the memory banks as the brain ages.
But how can you know if the memory lapses are normal “senior moments” or if they indicate a serious health condition? Read on to find out if you should be concerned about your memory lapses.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School have identified 6 common memory hiccups that are normal and should not be a cause for concern. If you suffer from any of these conditions, your brain is probably fine. However, if you have episodes like these on a regular basis, you may want to consult with a health professional about your risk for developing dementia or another brain degenerative disease or take steps to protect your memory today.
This happens to everyone. Transient memory loss is simply the loss of details or events over time. Memories recalled often are usually forgotten less than memories recalled less frequently. Researchers believe the mind uses a kind of “use it or lose it” policy when deciding which memories to keep fresh. The brain uses this function to make way for new memories and it is actually considered a beneficial function of the brain. However, if you want to hold on to a memory, think of it often.
People who are absentminded simply do not pay attention to the task at hand. This is how you can forget where you laid down your book even though you only set it down moments ago. If you want to remember where you place objects, think clearly about where you are putting them and why so that you can find them again later. Use written cues to help remember information like appointments or when to take medicine.
Misattribution is the incorrect attribution of a memory to a time, place, or person. You may think you drove to the store with your daughter, but in fact, it was your son. Another form of misattribution takes ownership for another person’s ideas- a cause of some cases of plagiarism. Studies show that as a person ages, concentration and information processing becomes more difficult; making attribution errors more likely. The older a memory is, the more likely it is to be misattributed as well, which is why this form of memory loss becomes more common with age.
We’ve all had that moment when you just know you know the answer to a question but you cannot think of it at the moment. This is considered to be a temporary block on the memory caused by your brain recalling the wrong fact but still realizing the error. The competing memory “blocks” the real fact from emerging until later- usually after someone has looked up the information online. According to studies, half of blocked memories emerge within 1 minute after the block occurs. As people age, they are more likely to experience memory blocks- possibly because there are more memories in the brain to compete for attention.
Each person’s experiences, moods, beliefs, and knowledge filter their memories. A bias that you have about a memory can change your perception of the memory. For example, if you were angry during a memory, you may remember that your spouse said something hurtful, but forget that you also said something hurtful to your spouse. As a child, you might remember a certain place as huge and terrifying, but when you visit it as an adult you see that the area is small and quite friendly. No research has been done so far to determine if memory bias becomes stronger or more common with age, but everyone has perception bias to some degree with all memories.
Have you ever talked to a child about an event that occurred before he or she was born? The child may insist that he or she remembers everything about the event- even down to the colors everyone was wearing at the time. This is an example of suggestible memory. Suggestible memory is influenced by information you learn about an event after the fact. That information is then added to your memory although you never experienced that information (or none of it, in the case of the child). The power of suggestion can influence memories greatly, and can change your memories over time and as you age.
If you have any of the above problems, your memory lapses are normal and not a sign of actual mental trouble in your brain. However, there are also signs that point to more serious memory problems. If you have any of these signs, then it is possible that your memory is degenerating. According to studies, normal memory hiccups are called “maladaptive brain activity changes" and occur when your brain recognizes patterns in daily life and basically turns off your memory because what you are doing is ordinary.
Instead, your brain may focus on daydreams or internal thinking. Most memory blips occur when your brain decides to “check out” during an important task. Suddenly, you have forgotten why you entered a room or if you mailed in your bills for the month.
A study published in “Neurology” in 2010 found a surprising link between mild memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that mild memory loss created the same damage (to a much lesser degree) in the brain as serious cases of cognitive decline. The researches concluded that mild changes in cognitive function could be one of the first signs of a more serious memory problem developing.
Two kinds of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are identified as increasing a person’s risk for developing more serious cognitive decline. These two conditions include:
Amnestic MCI: Forgetting information you would have recalled easily in the past, like recent events, appointments, and conversations.
Nonamnestic MCI: Forgetting the time or sequence of steps necessary to complete a task, loss in visual perception, and loss of ability to make sound decisions.
If you have these conditions, you may want to check your brain for signs of cognitive decline at a medical facility.
Luckily, cognitive decline is completely preventable. Some studies have shown that the brain can even rewrite itself and grow bigger and stronger if given the right tools. This means that even if you already have some cognitive decline, with the right tools, you can stop further decline and reverse existing decline.
Certain ingredients can help boost cognitive function. Harvard Medical School and Web MD recommend adding the following ingredients to your diet for a sharper mind:
Huperzine A: This moss uses natural forms of common memory-boosting medication.
Gingko Biloba: Increases blood flow to the brain and could boost cognitive function (may be most beneficial in doses over 100 mg daily)
Vitamin E and C: Research suggests that vitamin C and E could destroy free radicals that damage brain tissue.
Zinc: Boosts neurologic functioning. Ginseng: Promotes rest and boosts brain function.
Acetyl L-Carnitine: Improves brain cell function and memory.
Bacopa: Enhances memory and brain function (check for drug interactions)
Decades of research has shown that exercise is good for the brain. Studies show that exercise does not have to be vigorous, but should be regular. In studies of individuals older than 70, those who exercise regularly or live an active lifestyle (with activities like gardening) have less chance of developing dementia.
Your brain repairs itself and boosts memory while sleeping. If you do not sleep well your memory will suffer. Experts recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep nightly. These tips could help you sleep better at night:
If you have a healthy diet, you will be healthier overall, which will also promote a healthy mental state. Eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, protein, dairy, and other healthy foods. Avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and sugar; as these can cause glucose spikes that negatively impact memory. Add healthy fats, like grass-fed animal fats, coconut oil, avocado, and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet as well. Eating foods rich in vitamin D (fatty fish, grass-fed dairy) will also improve memory function.
Studies show that living a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing many common diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. A sharp mind makes life easier and more fulfilling. You can prevent much of the memory problems that are considered “normal” by simply living a healthier life. Supplementing for memory health, eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can all help you maintain a sharp mental state throughout life.
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