Is It Age Related Memory Loss? Or Something Else?

As we approach our golden years, it’s quite common to experience some age related memory loss. Whether it’s forgetting where you parked your car, missing a loved one’s birthday, or misplacing your keys, these “senior moments” can often send you into a spiral of worry, and you can begin to wonder if they are a normal part of aging or something more serious. When armed with the right information, you’ll know what to do if it becomes a concern for you or someone you love.

What is “Normal” When It Comes to Age Related Memory Loss?

Memory loss occurs as a result of declining brain activity as people age. Because each person ages differently, these changes can occur as early as their 50s, however, it is most common in people over the age of 65.  The good news is that normal age related memory loss is not likely to be indicative of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, meaning that we can lead our lives with relatively low interruption or concern. Memory loss can be considered a normal part of the aging process if:

  • It is not impacting your daily life
  • It does not affect the ability to complete tasks as usual
  • You have no challenges learning or retaining new information
  • You have no underlying conditions that may contribute to memory loss

As long as you can continue to live a full, productive life, changes in memory should be of no real concern and can be managed.

What Are the Causes of Age Related Memory Loss?

Beyond the reality of the normal aging process, there are a few scientific explanations of why our memory declines as we get older. The retrieval of memories is held by the hippocampus, which may deteriorate with age. Additionally, the hormones that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth often decline with age. Lastly, decreased blood flow to the brain can impair memory and contribute to cognitive decline.

Knowing the science of memory loss is helpful, however, other controllable causes may contribute to forgetfulness. If you are experiencing any form of memory loss, it’s important to be aware of the factors that can affect the brain’s ability to retain information:

  • Depression
  • B12 Deficiency
  • Thyroid issues
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Medication side effects
  • Severe dehydration
  • Insomnia or lack of sleep
  • Stress

If you are suffering from any type of memory loss, it’s crucial to take the steps to limit any external factors that may contribute to it.

When Should I Become Concerned About Memory Loss?

When memory loss isn’t just about misplacing your glasses, it may be time to investigate further. Before becoming worried about the worst possible outcome, it is important to be aware of the different signs of mental decline.

Apart from the normal aging process and age related memory loss, some older adults experience MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment). A more severe case of memory loss, MCI is paired with disorientation, poor judgment, and difficulty speaking, and it poses a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Adults living with Mild Cognitive Impairment do not experience interference with normal daily functions and with treatment can remain stable or even show improvement over time. A few indications of MCI are:

  • Forgetting recent events
  • Repeating the same stories
  • Forgetting names of loved ones frequently
  • Language difficulty
  • Loss of focus
  • Disorientation
  • Poor judgment

More serious cases of age related memory loss may lead to a dementia diagnosis. The umbrella term “dementia” includes difficulty with memory, language, reasoning, judgment, and other cognitive skills. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, however other forms of dementia include vascular, Lewy body, fronto-temporal, and mixed dementia.

Although dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. Family history, poor heart health, traumatic brain injury, as well as age and ethnicity, are risk factors of dementia.

Adults who experience dementia go through gradual changes that worsen over time and disrupt their daily routines and tasks. Some signs of dementia may include:

  • Difficulty retaining new information
  • Forgetting things often
  • Trouble completing familiar tasks
  • Disorientation of space and time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Language challenges
  • Problems thinking abstractly
  • Mood/behavioral/personality changes

If you or someone you love are experiencing signs of dementia, it is critical to get a professional diagnosis from your health care provider and seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid further decline.

How Can I Slow the Progression of Age Related Memory Loss?

Although there are certain uncontrollable risk factors, the bright side is that reducing the risks of dementia and memory loss is within your reach. Maintaining good brain and physical health is essential in reducing your chances of increased memory loss and dementia. General recommendations for overall brain health include:

  • Physical activity
  • Social activity
  • Eating healthy
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Managing stress
  • Learning new skills
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Maintaining good blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels

If you are concerned about age related memory loss, the professional staff at Palm Beach Neurological Center, led by Dr. Michael Tuchman, can provide guidance, diagnosis, and treatment. As founder of the Palm Beach Neurological Center, Dr. Tuchman has provided care for patients in the specialized field of neurology for over 30 years. Visit us at our office in Palm Beach Gardens or contact us at (561) 694-1010.

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