Understanding Memory Loss


July 31, 2014

You left the refrigerator door open last night. You found your “lost” coffee mug in the garage. You forgot the name of your best friend in high school. Are these recall lapses normal or signs of a memory loss problem? Like gray hair and wrinkles, some memory loss can be a normal part of the aging process. With a growing awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, though, you and millions of other senior Americans may be wondering if these occasional memory failings point to a more serious condition.

Why Memory Loss Happens

Older age changes the brain’s makeup. For instance, the chemicals that support brain cell health diminish with time. Some seniors also suffer from conditions such as cardiovascular disease that can reduce blood flow to the brain and impact its recall abilities. Your sense of taste can wane as well with age, and if you don’t eat enough nutritious foods, your brain can’t function properly. Certain areas of the brain, namely the hippocampus, can also experience decline. If this memory consolidation center deteriorates, you might notice memory loss.

What Distinguishes Normal Memory Loss from Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia can gradually rob a person of their cognitive abilities, including recall. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia; Huntington’s disease and vascular dementia are other conditions that can also deteriorate brain function. So how do you know if your memory loss indicates a bigger problem? Dementia affects reason and logic. It can also impact a person’s ability to perform common tasks. So someone with this condition might forget how to shower or find their way home.

How to Address Memory Loss

If you have concerns about your recall abilities, talk to a doctor. In many instances, controllable factors such as stress, vitamin deficiencies, and medication can influence memory loss, and a physician can determine if your issues stem from a fixable source. However, even if a doctor diagnoses dementia, management strategies ranging from prescription drugs to exercise to socializing with loved ones can help to delay the progression of the disease. First and foremost, understanding the problem is the most important step for improving your quality of life.

Summary Points:

  • The brain can experience some normal aging changes that may prompt memory lapses.
  • Dementia typically interferes with routine activities.
  • Both controllable and uncontrollable causes can contribute to memory loss, but in either case, a physician can recommend management strategies.

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