When an individual has difficulty recalling people, objects, places or events that have already taken place, he is experiencing memory loss. Many medical professionals agree that some memory loss is a common part of the aging process. It is only when memory loss affects an individual's ability to perform normal, daily functions that one should be concerned.
Types of Memory — To understand memory loss, it is helpful to understand how the brain stores information. In general, memory is stored in either short-term or long-term memory:
- Slower thinking — This typically affects your thinking and problem solving abilities.
- Difficulty paying attention — The more distractions you have, the harder it is for you to store the desired information in your memory.
- More cues needed to recall information — Most memories require some cue, but as you age, you may need more.
Experiencing these symptoms is not necessarily cause for alarm. Many individuals hastily assume that any form of memory loss is a sign of dementia, which is a significant, progressive and permanent loss of memory.
There are actually many different types of dementia, although the most well-
known is probably Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms of dementia include:
- Impairments in thinking, learning, memory, and judgment such as:
- Inability to recognize family members
- Forgetting one's home phone number or address
- Forgetting to eat, bathe, or perform other hygiene tasks
- Changes in personality, mood, and behavior
Only 5 to 8% of seniors over 65 are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, but if you have any concerns talk with your doctor.
Reversible Causes of Memory Loss — There are some causes of memory loss that are not related to aging or dementia. These causes are often called reversible causes of memory loss because with proper medical attention or a change in lifestyle, memory can be improved. Reversible causes may affect individuals of any age. If you suspect that any of these factors may be affecting your memory, contact your medical or mental health professional:
- Sleep disorders
- Metabolic diseases, such as thyroid disease
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
Improving Your Memory — Though you can't prevent memory loss or the effects of aging, there are some simple ways that everyone can improve their memory.
The Mayo Clinic has identified 10 steps to help keep your memory sharp:
- Exercise your mind. By challenging yourself with new mental challenges, you keep your brain active. Here are a few ideas:
- Learn to play a musical instrument
- Play word games like Scrabble or do crossword puzzles
- Interact and socialize with others
- Learn a new hobby
- Stay informed about current events
- Read a wide variety of material
- Be physically active. Physical activity increases blood flow, which increases oxygen to the brain. A good exercise program will incorporate aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching. Before you begin an exercise program, be sure that you consult your doctor.
- Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. A diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides your body with antioxidants, which are substances that protect and nourish brain cells. Dehydration can make you tired and will cause you to have problems concentrating.
- Use reminders and cues. Because you are required to retain and organize a lot information daily, use cues and other reminders. Here are some helpful cues:
- Write lists
- Establish a routine
- Practice repetition
- Give yourself time to remember things. It's a lot easier to memorize something when you are able to give it your full attention and focus.
- Learn to relax. Because stress and anxiety can interfere with your concentration, it is important to learn how to relax. Common stress reduction and relaxation techniques include:
- Regular exercise
- Be optimistic. Research has shown that a positive attitude can have very beneficial effects on many medical conditions. Happiness may make you more alert, and being alert opens your senses to help store memory.
- Talk with your doctor. Sometimes side effects of a medication or interactions between medications may cause problems with your memory. Talk with your doctor about your experiences.
- Check your levels. Know your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Sometimes a change in these may affect your alertness or your ability to concentrate. Check to see if your thyroid gland is functioning properly as well.
- Keep your perspective. Some memory loss is normal, so don't panic if you can't remember where you placed your keys or can't think of that word you were looking for. You can't remember everything.