Is your memory loss age-related, or could it be …
Age-related memory loss is fairly common as a person gets older. It’s not at all unusual for an older person to have what have become euphemistically known as ‘senior moments’ – those times when they can’t remember a simple thing, like the name of their partner (oops!), or why they went into a particular room, or opened the fridge, or went upstairs.
This kind of age-related memory loss can leave you wondering what’s going on, but it’s all part of a pattern of memory problems called age-related memory impairment (AMI). And while these types of memory problems are annoying and upsetting, they can simply be due to the huge amount of information that we’re all expected to handle these days, owing to the ever-increasing march of technology, rather than any specific memory problem.
Now, what was I doing?
Another common thing that affects older adults is that they often have trouble remembering what they were doing, if they’ve been interrupted in the course of it. A younger person can quickly and easily slip back into whatever it was that they were doing, while typically an older person can be left scratching his head and struggling to recall what it was they were actually doing. For this reason, older people are often quick to jump to the conclusion that this may be a sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
But that could be a conclusion too far. No point in jumping the gun. It might just be absent-mindedness or some other manifestation of age-related memory loss. It could even be just confusion caused by any of a number of factors.
Age-related memory loss
While it’s possible that the two are sometimes linked, nobody should assume they have dementia symptoms just because they got distracted while they were in the middle of something and then couldn’t remember what they’d been doing. There could be lots of reasons, some of which are listed below.
- Dehydration – this can have all sorts of unwanted effects, and poor memory and an inability to concentrate can certainly be among them.
- Stress or anxiety – when a person is stressed or feeling anxious, it’s hardly surprising if he or she can barely think straight, let alone have full control of the faculty of memory. This is a common cause of age-related memory loss.
- Nutritional deficiency – if a person is missing something in their diet, particularly certain vitamins or trace elements, age-related memory loss is only to be expected.
- Infection – when a person is suffering from an infection, a clear symptom of it can be that they appear disturbed or distracted, and have difficulty concentrating, so naturally the memory will be impaired in such a situation.
- Side-effects of medication – many older people take regular medication of one sort or another, and many medications have extensive lists of side-effects. That’s not to say they’re all likely to affect you, only that the possibility is there. Also they can counteract each other, if two medications have been prescribed that do not work well together, and any side-effects could be aggravated.
- Drink, drugs, etc. – since older people typically have a bit more time on their hands, it’s understandable that they might get in the habit of drinking a bit more than they normally would, or for that matter, using any other drugs that they were in the habit of using. The possibility can’t be ignored that an over-indulgence will cause age-related memory loss.
- Depression – with advancing age comes the various problems of being alone, not being motivated by having the job you’re used to, not having the income you were used to, feeling marginalised, feeling unwanted, and so on. These things can lead to a feeling of helplessness and depression, and this can certainly impact a person’s memory skills
- A traumatic event – the death of a partner, for example, can have a devastating effect on the surviving partner, but that doesn’t mean that the very likely associated memory problems are indicative of Alzheimer’s.
Alleviating your memory problems
There has been a lot of research in this area, in an effort to find meaningful ways to combat these problems, and thereby improve memory. These include such things as:
- Improved diet – it’s increasingly important to maintain a healthy diet as you get older, and particularly if you think your diet may be lacking in nutritional value. Those with a healthy diet generally seem to have an overall healthier lifestyle, and often seem to boast a better memory.
- Regular exercise – it’s not necessary to indulge in strenuous activity for long periods, but as you get older it’s certainly advisable to exercise regularly. And it’s always better to do something, no matter how small, than nothing at all. Once you’ve built up to it, it can pay big dividends to do small amounts of intense activity, and for only short periods.
This can literally be just 3-5 minutes of (for example) aerobic exercises, such as cycling, or swimming, or bodyweight exercises. Just a few minutes can raise the body’s metabolism noticeably, and if you’re up to it, it can be upped even further by simply repeating the short burst of activity a number of times. Each one, in itself, won’t be enough to exhaust you or leave you feeling depleted, but the cumulative effect of a few bouts of this type of exercise can be very effective. Of course, the increased blood flow to the brain is often thought to be good for the memory, and for clear thinking in general. As the old saying goes, a healthy mind in a healthy body.
- Be better organised – keep regular hours, organise your household bills, your household cleaning routines, etc., and generally keep yourself busy and well turned out and looking good. The better you present yourself to the world, the better you’ll feel.
- Keep socially active – whether it’s with your immediate neighbours, or with a local group sharing similar interests, or with the neighbourhood in general, it’s important as you get older to forge and maintain friendships and healthy relationships with others.
- Challenge yourself! – it’s never too late to take up a sport or hobby, or to start to learn something challenging, like a foreign language, or computer skills, or a musical instrument. If you’re up against it and you feel you have to perform at your best, it’s likely you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of what you’re doing, as well as benefiting from the challenge and the motivation.
- Helping others – one of the finest things a person can do to improve the way he or she feels is to help someone else. This ‘takes you out of yourself’, or, in other words, it moves your focus away from yourself completely. While you’re focusing on helping or teaching someone else something, it’s almost impossible to dwell on your own ‘problems’.
- Fix what’s broke – if you do have a drink or drugs problem, or your medication may be interfering with your health, or your diet is really poor, or you’re simply dehydrated, these are all things that are within your power to fix. Take the initiative and take control. Make it your business to deal with the situation. As soon as you do this, you’ll be regaining a sense of worth, and a sense of purpose.
- Use memory aids – use anything that works for you if you have these types of memory problems, such as to-do lists, reminder lists, sticky notes, big calendars where you can add information, and any electronic devices that work for you. And, of course, use the memory techniques on this site.
So it’s important to realise that many of the memory problems we might encounter as we get older are probably nothing at all to do with any form of dementia. Of course, they could be symptoms of an underlying health problem, and if you have any health concerns, it’s advisable to discuss them with your doctor. But much of the time they will simply be due to the things that go along with getting older – loss of job, loss of income, perhaps loss of a long-term partner, loss of motivation, etc. The cumulative effect of two or three of these things happening around the same time will be a general sense of loss, and a sense of de-motivation.
Take the initiative, and change whatever you can change. It’s also important to learn to accept those things that are beyond your power to change. Most of all, be the person you’ve always been. Don’t become a shell of your former self, with virtually nothing inside. Take responsibility for improving your lifestyle, for engaging in social networks, for creating and accepting challenges, and so on.
It might well be that memory improvement will be one of the things you want to get serious about as you get older. It could help you in various different ways, including providing something for you to focus on.
Well, you have more time now, and fewer excuses, so go for it! Set yourself targets and goals, and give them well defined end-points. Set yourself challenges and accept them with a smile. Even if it’s small-time stuff by someone else’s standards, if it’s important to you, embrace the challenge and revel in achieving it.
As a bonus, consider that keeping mentally active in middle-age adulthood is thought to lower your risks of developing Alzheimer’s