Forgetfulness, Memory Loss, and Dementia: What’s Normal?
Do you find yourself walking into a room and forgetting what you went in there for? Or forgetting the name of that movie you watched last week? Maybe you can’t remember the name of an acquaintance or sometimes forget where you left the keys.
These moments can feel alarming as we grow older, but these occasional lapses in memory are a natural part of aging. As frustrating as it can be to space the name of that street while you’re trying to give directions or to forget exactly where you parked in the lot, these moments of mild forgetfulness are normal.
What’s not normal is excessive or invasive memory loss. Age-related memory loss is not the same as dementia, and it’s important to know where the distinction lies.
Why Does Age-Related Memory Loss Occur?
As we age, our brain undergoes physical changes that can impact our memory. Hormones that protect and repair brain cells begin to fade. Oftentimes, the blood flow to the brain decreases. The hippocampus, a component of the brain responsible for much of our memory function, begins to deteriorate.
While these developments are natural, continuing deterioration is inevitable. The brain is an organ, and like any organ in the body, it requires nutrients and healthy conditions to function properly. If we take extra measures to create these conditions for the brain as we age, we can combat the downward progression and curb forgetfulness.
Five Lifestyle Interventions to Curb Forgetfulness
1. Eat a vegetable-rich diet complete with healthy fats. The antioxidants found in many vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to benefit brain cells and support memory.
2. Exercise for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Taking walks is an effective means of exercise that can be enjoyable and easily accessible.
3. Sleep for at least 7 hours per night. Sleep affects emotional health, gastrointestinal health, and more—all of which ultimately impacts the brain.
4. Reduce Stress. Stress and anxiety have been shown to hinder brain function in numerous ways, so stress management is essential. One simple and easy way to ease stress is by practicing regular breathing exercises.
5. Stay Social. Another effective stress reducer is social interaction. If you’re in need of more social outlets, consider volunteering, joining a club, or reconnecting with old friends.
Five Exercises to Strengthen the Brain
In many ways, the brain acts as a muscle, and just as we do our muscles, we must exercise our brain to prevent deterioration. Here are five ways to pursue cognitive exercise:
1. Discover something new. Teach yourself a new language, learn about a science that interests you, train yourself to read music—whatever it is that intrigues you.
2. Read. Get in the habit of reading challenging texts, whether journals, newspaper articles, essays, books, or whatever gets you thinking.
3. Solve a puzzle. Take up the crossword puzzle, or challenge yourself to a Sudoku game. Problem solving is good exercise for the brain.
4. Design something. Whether this is a room remodel, garden construction, or scrapbook project, let your brain employ its planning skills.
5. Play strategy games. Play is good for adults too; try chess, backgammon, Scrabble, or any game that calls on your strategic brain.
Distinguishing between Normal Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline
Normal age-related forgetfulness does not interfere with a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. If memory loss does become debilitating or harmful, it is not a normal part of aging. This abnormal level of memory loss is generally referred to as Mild Cognitive
Impairment (MCI)—a condition that is a common precursor of dementia.
Memory problems associated with MCI are more frequent and invasive than normal forgetfulness, and are generally noticeable by others in your life. Still, the line between age-related memory changes and abnormal memory problems isn’t always clear, so here are some common indicators to help you distinguish:
Normal Age-Related Memory Changes
- Occasional memory lapses that don’t hinder one’s ability to function
- Temporary forgetfulness that can later be recognized and recalled
- Momentary difficulty remembering directions
Occasional trouble recalling names or remembering words in conversation
- Minor decreases in reaction time and information-processing speed
Abnormal Memory Changes that May Indicate MCI or Dementia
Difficulty or inability to perform simple tasks (washing the dishes, making tea, getting dressed, etc.) as a result of forgetting how
Complete inability to remember moments of forgetfulness
Inability to follow directions or navigate familiar locations, such as one’s home
Frequent misuse of or inability to recollect words, and common conversational repetition
Difficulty navigating familiar systems and common appliances, such as a microwave or the laundry
For a complete assessment to help you or your loved one gauge forgetfulness and determine the potential presence of MCI, take this complete MCI / Alzheimer’s Questionnaire.
The Connection between MCI and Dementia
While MCI is a precursor of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias, the progression is not certain. As the world of medicine transforms and expands in the 21st century, we’re breaking ground on brain health and the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
With revolutionary advancements like The Bredesen Protocol, whose functional approach to cognitive decline has proven successful time and time again, we can prevent and even reverse neurodegeneration.
If you’re concerned with your memory of cognitive health, The Healthy Brain Clinic can help. We can determine the health status of your brain and implement the appropriate program of supplements, diet modifications, and/or lifestyle changes to preserve and improve the health of your brain, as well as prevent the development of cognitive impairment.
Give us a call to learn more about our programs and how we can help!
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