Managing Senior Moments
By Brian Grabert, MD, Neurologist with Colorado Springs Health Partners, PC, Colorado Springs LIVING WELL Magazine
What happens when your memory doesn’t serve you right? Brain function has recently gained a lot of research attention and shows that our brains adapt better as we age than we originally thought, but, not necessarily for memory.
Small decreases in our memory or cognitive ability may occur because our brain changes as we age, not unlike other parts of the body. Just as arteries can become clogged with plaque and reduce blood flow, our brain can collect this same plaque, or abnormal clumps of protein, that interfere with how its different parts communicate with each other. Some of the first areas hit for certain people are those having to do with memory.
Causes of memory loss and how to prevent it are not fully known. The most common types of dementia are: Alzheimer’s disease (65-80%), vascular dementia (mini strokes), Lewy body (build up of protein “clumps” in the brain, Parkinson’s disease, fronto-temporal and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). We also know that the following can contribute to memory loss:
- Medications or infections
- Alcohol and illicit drugs
- Depression and stress
- Head injury
- Sleep apnea/sleep deprivation
The 10 warning signs for Alzheimer’s are well recognized and include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
What can you do to help your memory? Since your memory relies on certain areas of the brain keeping their function, doing things that are good for your brain (and not bad for your body, either), are often useful:
- Learn something new or volunteer in your community
- Stay connected socially with family and friends
- Use tools–a big calendar, lists, reminder notes to yourself
- Keep glasses, keys, wallet or purse, etc., in the same place all the time
- Get plenty of rest and exercise
- Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure if they are high
- Stop smoking
- Eat right and limit your alcohol intake
- Get help if you feel depressed
- Do puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku to exercise your brain
- See your doctor if you notice you have the symptoms listed above
NOTE: Although commonly discussed, there are no known supplements or vitamins that have proven effective in treating dementia to date.
When you do visit your doctor because you have noticed changes that worry you, he or she may recommend blood work and/or a brain scan to identify possible contributors to your memory loss. The brain scan (a CT or MRI) helps you and your doctor determine which areas are healthy and identify rare, treatable dementias like normal pressure hydrocephalus. Getting these tests done early allows treatment to start earlier when it may be more effective. Some types of dementia respond well to certain medications so early diagnosis is to your advantage.
When “memory serves us well,” we take it for granted. As we age, it is in our best interest to take for granted that we need to pay attention closely to signs that our bodies and brains are changing, and get those changes checked out early!
Resources used in preparing this article include:
|Signs of Alzheimer’s||Typical age-related changes|
|Poor judgment and decision making||Making a bad decision once in a while|
|Inability to manage a budget||Missing a monthly payment|
|Losing track of the date or the season||Forgetting which day it is and remembering later|
|Difficulty having a conversation||Sometimes forgetting which word to use|
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them||Losing things from time to time|
Brian Grabert, MD, is a neurologist practicing with Colorado Springs Health Partners, PC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit cshp.net.