We have all walked to the fridge and forgotten what we were looking for on opening it. Whether it be misplacing keys, blanking on someone’s name, or forgetting our anniversary, we’ve been there, done that!! Having dismissed these occasional lapses in memory when young, the same signs can be scary as we grow older. However, it is essential to remember that our brain undergoes many physiological changes with age. These transformations cause glitches in the brain function. “These annoying senior moments are the result of a decline in brain activity that shows up in your 50s and affects most people older than age 65”, according to Kirk Erickson, a psychology postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who studies relationship between memory and lifestyle. While, forgetting people’s names, where you left your keys, or what you were doing a moment ago are normal, forgetting the name of a family member or what those keys are used for is a sign of more serious problem.
Despite being frustrating, memory loss isn’t a cause for concern in most cases, as age-related memory loss is not the same as dementia.
Let’s find out how to differentiate between age-related memory changes and the signs of a developing cognitive problem.
Age-related memory loss vs Dementia
With age comes wisdom. But what also comes with age is memory loss, which is normal, physiological, AND inevitable. Some areas of the brain, like the hippocampus, deteriorate with age and a decline in the protective hormones and proteins that repair the damaged cells. This results in slowing down of your mental processes. You may take longer to learn and recall new things or remember a name on the “tip of your tongue,”; but this information will eventually come to your mind if you give yourself some time. So, this slowing down of your mental process and occasional lapse in memory must not be mistaken as dementia.
Despite your forgetfulness or slower mental process, the cognitive abilities which are unaffected by aging are:
- (Thankfully!!) Your wisdom and knowledge acquired from all your life experiences
- Basic abilities to perform things you have always been doing and normal day-to-day activities
- Your inherent common sense, logical thinking, and ability to develop reasonable judgments and arguments
Whereas in dementia, there is a significant change in the intellectual capabilities of a person affecting memory, judgment, abstract thinking, and even language. A person with dementia may experience difficulty performing simple daily tasks like washing up, dressing correctly, getting disoriented in familiar places, not following directions, etc. If changes in cognitive abilities start affecting a person’s day-to-day life, work, relationships, and the ability to lead a normal life, it may be warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s time to see a doctor in such cases.
A study in the USA has reported that about 40% of people aged 65 and above experience age-related memory loss, but only 1% of them progress to dementia every year.
So, you need not worry if you have trouble remembering a few names!
Now the question is,
How to fight Memory loss and preserve our memory during the aging process?
Age-related memory loss doesn’t keep getting worse. In fact, older folks are actually better than their younger peers at some memory-related tasks, such as crossword puzzles. Plus, you can stop the decline and even reverse some loss.
How? By making positive lifestyle changes — the same habits that protect your heart, bones, and lungs. And it’s never too late. The brain is relatively malleable even into old age.
Just as exercises are good for physical health, your brain needs some workout too. Your lifestyle, habits, and daily activities have a significant impact on your mental and cognitive abilities. Here are some ways which can help you preserve your brain vitality:
- Consume a balanced, nutrition rich diet, that is full of antioxidants – Studies have shown, people who use vitamin supplements tend to have less brain shrinkage than those who don’t. While it’s possible that people who take vitamins tend to make other healthy choices that protect their brain, getting your minimum daily requirement of vitamins C, E, B6, B12, and folate is a good insurance.
- Keep your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in check – Uncontrolled diabetes may increase the risk of experiencing cognitive problems, such as memory loss. Higher than normal blood glucose levels can damage nerve cells, supportive glial cells, and blood vessels in both peripheral nerves of the body and the brain, and may cause memory loss through silent damage to the capillaries (tiny blood vessels that form the network for glucose and oxygen exchange between blood vessels and tissue cells)
- Get enough sleep – Poor quality sleep among the elderly can cause significant memory loss and brain deterioration, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. Poor quality of sleep in adults causes memories to stay stuck in the hippocampus and not reach the prefrontal cortex. According to a study at the University of California, Berkeley, the quality of deep sleep among the older adults was 75 percent lower than the younger ones, and as a result their memory was significantly worse the next day – 55 percent worse.
- Avoid stress – Stress can cause acute and chronic changes in certain brain areas which can cause long-term damage. Over-secretion of stress hormones most frequently impairs long-term delayed recall memory.
- Quit smoking – Smoking harms memory by reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Studies have shown that people who smoke find it more difficult to put faces with names than do non-smokers.
- Stay socially engaged – Social isolation contributes to memory loss in older age, research by LSE’s Care and Evaluation Centre has shown for the first time. The paper, published in Journals of Gerontology, found that both men and women were affected. By using a statistical model to analyze the changes in levels of social isolation and memory lossover time, they were able to establish that isolation precedes memory loss—rather than the other way around. Hence, improving social interaction of older people is a way to prevent or slow memory decline is easier than if it were the other way around.
- Physical exercises like walking, aerobics, yoga – Aerobic training increases supply of blood to the brain, spurs the development of new neurons, and forges more connections between them. All it takes to benefit is 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, three times a week. Please be sure to consult your physician before undertaking any physical exercise routine.
- Workout your brain – solving puzzles, playing chess, teaching someone a skill or an art, pursuing a hobby, etc. all keep your brain neurons healthy and active, potentially delaying the onset of any age related or chronic memory loss.
Disclaimer: Please consult your physician before undertaking any exercise routine, change in diet or consuming vitamins & supplements.