Our ability to recall our past and recognize our loved ones is what gives us each our sense of place in the world and brings meaning to our lives. Memory and recognition are what connect us to everything we value. This is why even the slightest signs of memory loss can be unsettling. But occasional trouble remembering is not cause to worry.
As we age, we can fully expect to show some signs of forgetfulness, and moments of memory loss. The fear is that these episodes may be indications of the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease, or some other type of dementia. But occasionally forgetting is normal for older adults and is considered to be simply part of the normal aging process. But how can you tell the difference between normal memory loss associated with age and Alzheimer’s disease?
Some mild forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. If a loved one momentarily forgets which day it is, or occasionally loses the car keys, it’s not usually a cause for serious worry. In fact, almost 40% of people over the age of 65 will experience some degree of memory loss. This is usually mild and doesn’t affect their day-to-day lives. We all may lose something from time to time, or forget to pay a monthly bill.
An area of memory that is most commonly affected by normal aging is language. Forgetting words, forgetting peoples’ names, a slowing in the ability to come up with a proper response – these can all be considered normal. These sorts of differences are noticeable, though, and they can seem like cause for concern. It’s really the rate at which it progresses that matters.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a kind of cognitive decline that can reveal itself through many symptoms, including memory loss and loss of language skills. But it’s not only about forgetfulness. It’s also about a decreased ability to think, to solve problems, to learn new things and to reason. It may negatively affect visual perception. Some people become more easily distracted. Some may even exhibit personality changes.
Signs of Memory Loss
A family member may begin to show more serious signs of memory loss, or ability to think. If they start having trouble performing everyday tasks like driving or grocery shopping, this isn’t a normal part of healthy aging. If they ask the same questions repeatedly, if they don’t recognize familiar places, or if they become easily confused throughout the day, these could be signs of dementia.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Some older adults can begin to show symptoms of what is called Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI. This means that they have more memory and cognitive problems than other people their age. Signs of MCI include forgetting appointments, mild speech problems, and regularly losing items such as car keys or eyeglasses. MCI can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone who is diagnosed with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s. And people at this stage can typically still live independently for an indefinite amount of time.
What Do You Do?
If you suspect that you or a family member may be showing signs of cognitive impairment, talk to your doctor. There are many possible causes of confusion, forgetfulness and trouble thinking. Medical conditions such as depression and anxiety are common causes of temporary cognitive difficulty. Side effects from medications are another common cause. Ongoing sleep problems, a head injury, and even an infection can be a cause for dementia-like symptoms. In all these cases, the problem can be treated and normal mental ability will return. However, if the memory loss is caused by a brain disorder such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the symptoms cannot be reversed. Your doctor will advise you on a recommended course of treatment, and early diagnosis is a key component to maintaining a high quality of life.
Can Cognitive Decline Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent memory loss and to ensure healthy aging is to live a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants and good fats such as Omega-3, is important. Getting plenty of aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching are key factors. It’s also very important that you don’t smoke. What you want to do is maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels and prevent diabetes. You should maintain a healthy weight, and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Some experts say that this means 1 drink per day for women, and 2 per day for men.
Also, you should do things that make you happy. Practice gratefulness. Stay socially active. Get involved in your community. Volunteer. Many studies show that older adults with a healthy emotional state often have a healthier cognitive state. You can also exercise your brain directly. Do puzzles, word games, read books, take a class to learn a new skill, or learn a new language. You’ll be doing your brain a whole lot of good, and you’ll have a whole lot of fun, too.
Memory Tips and Tricks
If you find that you’re becoming somewhat forgetful, there are several ways you can help make your daily activities easier to remember. You can write notes to yourself to help you remember things. You can place a sticky-note on your bathroom mirror, for example, to help you to remember to take your medications. And you can use pill boxes that are divided by days of the week and even times of the day to prevent you from accidentally taking your medication twice.
A chalk board or a whiteboard can be a great help when you’re trying to remember things. They come in lots of different sizes depending on your needs and the space you have. They can be hung on the wall somewhere that’s easy to read and write on. It will be important to get into the habit of erasing tasks off the whiteboard when they’re completed so you don’t repeat tasks unnecessarily. Make erasing each task off the whiteboard part of the process of using it.
Timers are also a great memory device. They are inexpensive and easy to find at a store. And most ovens come with a timer built in. A timer can help you remember to turn off the stove, remind you to check if the laundry is done, or tell you when your tea is ready. A great way to use a timer is to set it to remind you that you have an appointment. Any smartphone will come equipped with a timer that can be set as a reminder of a calendar appointment. Just remember to set the timer for when you need to get ready, rather than when your appointment starts. You don’t want to have the timer go off just to realize you’re already late.
Expert Help Is There When You Need It
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia for you or a family member can be devastating. But there are groups who specialize in helping you, like the Alzheimer’s Association. You don’t have to go through it alone. All you have to do is reach out. You’ll find a network near you of people who care – a network of people who want the very best for you and who know down to the last detail how to help you.
The certified memory care specialists at Edgemere in Dallas are specially trained in the latest techniques and technology to help those who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. What’s more, they treat your loved one with all the care, compassion and respect they deserve.
If you want to learn more about the superior-quality memory care provided at Edgemere – our specially designed therapies, programs and services – just fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page. We’re here for you. We’ll answer your questions. And we’ll show you you’ve got a whole community of caring professionals ready and eager to help.