While many of us may joke about becoming forgetful as we age, true memory loss is no laughing matter.
It’s helpful to understand how memory changes with age, and the distinction between normal memory lapses and the possibility of a more serious condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, that may necessitate memory care.
Memory Loss: Signs and Symptoms
If a senior is having memory trouble, the first step is to schedule a thorough physical examination, including a memory test. Be sure to discuss the following with medical professionals:
- The specific memory problem the senior is having, including when it started, when it occurs, and whether the problem has been getting better, worse, or staying the same over time;
- Any medical conditions the doctor may not be aware of, such as changes in weight or appetite, or sleep disturbances;
- Depression or emotional trauma;
- Recent changes in the home environment;
- Medications the senior takes, including OTC and supplements;
- Any recent falls or blackouts;
- If you (or the senior themselves) feel the senior can no longer care for themselves at home on their own.
Know the Memory Loss Imposters
It’s important to note that other health issues can appear as dementia symptoms in the elderly. For instance, a urinary tract infection (UTI) can appear as confusion and agitation, as well as exacerbate existing dementia symptoms, but does not mean someone has dementia.
In fact, more than 50 conditions can mimic dementia symptoms, including a reaction to medication (or taking the incorrect dosage), a vitamin B12 deficiency (common in the elderly due to poor absorption), and an underactive thyroid. This is why an accurate diagnosis is crucial for appropriate treatment.
If the memory test is abnormal, your doctor will attempt to rule out numerous other causes of memory loss, as noted above. If there is no other explanation, a senior may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The warning signs of Alzheimer’s are more pervasive and severe than temporary memory loss, and include:
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks, such as making dinner or using a hairdryer;
- Problems with language, such as being unable to recall the word “toothbrush” and asking instead for “that thing for my mouth”;
- Time and place disorientation, such as being unable to find your own house;
- Odd placement of objects, such as putting an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl;
- Poor judgment, such as wearing a heavy overcoat on a hot summer day.
Understanding the “Three Rs” of Memory
Like the “three Rs” of childhood — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic — memory involves registering, retaining and retrieving data, much like a computer. Here’s how the 3 Rs of memory work:
- Record. The brain’s cerebral cortex registers nerve messages from our eyes, ears, and touch sensors. This stimulus is held for a fraction of a second in “sensory memory”. But if we become distracted, this information is lost. Because older adults often have hearing and/or visual impairments, it’s more difficult to record new information without distraction.
- Retain. As with computers, “working memory” only applies in the short-term due to limited storage capacity — a maximum of seven items, give or take. To remember something long-term, the brain needs to move the information into long-term memory.
This is why it’s always helpful to make a shopping list for the week’s groceries — and why seniors can typically recall a significant event from 50 years ago more easily than a mundane conversation from last Saturday. Someone with poor retention may need more social stimulation or a better diet, rather than memory care.
- Retrieve. When something is on the tip of your tongue and you can’t quite reach it, that’s a retrieval problem, which can be quite frustrating. It’s important for seniors to remember they have a mental database chockfull of information, and their brain may have to search through decades of storage to find the relevant information.
7 Steps to Treat Memory Loss
- Pay attention. Attention is the gateway to memory. Focus on one task at a time. While multitasking may have worked well in someone’s younger years, this mental juggling can be a hindrance now.
- Organize. Memories are like important papers. You probably store your bankbooks, Social Security documents, and other valuable paperwork in files according to category. (If not, this would be a good step to take as well). Start to organize your memories the same way: classify people according to where you know them from, or by common interests.
- Lighten up! Laughter is a balm for your brain, heart, and immune system.
- Exercise. Movement, like laughter, helps increase oxygen uptake and helps with all mental functions. If you’ve been sedentary, be sure to check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise program. It doesn’t need to be strenuous. Studies show a regular walking program can reduce the risk of dementia, boost heart health, and build senior bones.
- Drink plenty of water. When a senior becomes dehydrated, confusion sets in and recall becomes more difficult.
- Eat a healthy diet. What you eat can help — or harm — your memory.
- Socialize. Spending time with others helps reduce stress and boost brain health, especially if you engage in mentally stimulating activities such as scrabble or jigsaw puzzles, or playing a musical instrument.
Here at The Kensington Redondo Beach, we will strive to ensure seniors live an active, healthy lifestyle every day, in a uniquely beautiful setting. Our elegant new community beckons people outside to enjoy our lush courtyard and perfect year-round weather. Exercising is easy here in Redondo Beach; in addition to the outdoor amenities we have on-site, the beach and boardwalk are nearby and we also offer many indoor fitness activities to choose from.
In addition to active living, The Kensington dining team is focused on wholesome and balanced nutrition. Our menu caters to our senior residents, with the kind of fresh, wholesome food for which California is famous. We emphasize foods known for keeping memory strong and can accomodate a multitude of special diets.
We look forward to welcoming you home to The Kensington Redondo Beach.