One of the most dreaded side-affects of aging is memory loss. People who have lived through seeing a loved one with Alzheimer’s or severe dementia know that memory loss can be heartbreaking both for the person affected and his or her family.
Fortunately, memory loss doesn’t have to be a reality of aging.
Symptoms of Memory Loss
As people age, their loved ones often joke about “senior moments.” These moments of forgetfulness – misplaced keys, forgotten grocery store items, etc. – are a normal part of the aging process, but there is a definitive line between routine forgetfulness and warning signs of memory loss.
As people age, a set of physiological changes begin that cause routine, short-lived glitches in brain function. With age, it may take longer to recall information and new topics may be more difficult to learn. The differentiating factor, however, is that the memory or attention does return. For example, a person may be giving directions to a home and suddenly forget a street name. Although that person may not be able to remember the name at that exact moment, it will most likely come back to him or her later that day.
Memory loss, on the other hand, manifests in more pronounced and startling ways. People may not recognize their loved ones or may forget the name of their spouse. They may get lost in familiar areas, routinely forget very simple words or garble their speech. They may act in socially inappropriate ways or make poor choices in respect to safety. Moreover, they may not remember previous incidences of memory loss and may deny altogether that their mental function is impaired.
Causes of Memory Loss
When it comes to the causes of memory loss, there are reversible and irreversible causes. Irreversible causes include dementia and Alzheimer’s. While the symptoms of these conditions can be temporarily alleviated and treated through proper nutrition and mediation, they are not ultimately curable. Reversible causes, on the other hand, include the following:
Vitamin B12 is an amazingly important nutrient. In addition to protecting the neurons in the human brain, it also supports normal, healthy brain function. Because of this, a B12 deficiency can lead to brain damage, impaired brain function and eventual memory loss. Fortunately, B12 deficiency can be reversed if it is detected early. People who smoke or drink in excess are at increased risk for B12 deficiency and may have to undergo monthly B12 injections to replenish their levels.
Dehydration is a prominent problem in aging adults and seniors. Severe dehydration can easily create symptoms, such as drowsiness, slurred words and memory loss, which look like dementia or confusion. Fortunately, by drinking 6-8 glasses of water each day, older adults can decrease their risk of severe dehydration and associated memory loss. Those who take diuretics or laxatives may need to drink more water to offset the affects of their medications.
Because the thyroid controls metabolic function, it is directly related to memory. When a person’s metabolism is too slow, sluggishness and depression take hold. When a metabolism is too fast, however, people often feel confused. When thyroid problems are severe, they may lead to forgetfulness and an inability to concentrate. Fortunately, medication and proper treatment can often alleviate these symptoms.
Severe depression can easily create symptoms that closely resemble memory loss. People with depressive symptoms may find it difficult to concentrate, organize their lives or remember important things. Fortunately, the symptoms of severe depression and associated memory loss can often be reversed through proper medication, counseling and increased social activity.
Side Effects of Common Medications
People who take three or more drugs are at increased risk of impaired cognitive function. Because medications interact with one another in complex and often unpredictable ways, they can easily affect cognitive function and may result in memory loss. Because older adults absorb medication more slowly, these side effects are often more pronounced. Fortunately, removing certain medications or trading them out for medications that interact better with the other medications can often mitigate these symptoms.
Preventing Memory Loss
For people not affected by dementia, most memory loss is avoidable or reversible. Because memory loss is often the result of deficiencies in the body, the first line of defense is to keep the aging individual as healthy and active as possible. Follow these tips to safeguard against memory loss:
Exercise is one of the most important factors in combatting memory loss. Regular physical activity encourages brain growth and lays the foundation for new brain cells. Additionally, routine exercise reduces the risk of other physical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which may lead to memory loss. Finally, exercise also boosts endorphins, reduces stress and helps manage depressive symptoms, which can lead to a healthier, more resilient brain.
People who withdraw from their social circles are at increased risk for memory loss. The reason behind this is that face-to-face interaction with friends and loved ones forms new memories, keeps the brain active and reduces stress. Visiting friends or taking part in community events is a great way to support healthy brain function and ensure that the brain stays sharp and active during the aging process.
Because smoking impairs the transport of nutrients to the brain, people who smoke are at very high risk of memory loss. Additionally, smoking increases the risk of vascular problems, which may impede the transfer of blood to the brain, thus resulting in memory loss and poor cognitive function.
Nutrition is a huge factor in preventing memory loss and seniors with healthy, well-rounded diets are much less likely to experience memory loss than their less-nutritious counterparts. Foods rich in antioxidants (Green tea and vegetables) are ideal for keeping the brain active and alert while omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like salmon, tuna, walnuts and flaxseed, support healthy memory and brain building.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is an absolute necessity for healthy brain function. Because the brain processes and solidifies new memories during sleep, people who don’t get enough quality, uninterrupted sleep are subject to higher rates of memory loss than those who do. For the best brain-boosting benefits, sleep at least 8 hours per night and sneak in a nap during the day if possible.
Keep the Brain Active
Simple activities like playing strategy games (chess, bridge, Scrabble, etc.), reading, learning a new language, musical instrument or skill or completing a craft project are wonderful for keeping the brain healthy and active. The brain is a “use it or lose it” organ and people who routinely give their brains a workout are less likely to experience age-related memory loss.
Although memory loss is a frightening prospect, it doesn’t have to be a reality for everyone. By knowing the causes of memory loss and being proactive about preventing it, seniors can stay healthy and mentally sharp throughout their later years.