You put your keys somewhere, and now you can’t find them. You go to the kitchen, and you can’t remember what you needed. Don’t worry. Most likely you will be able to locate your keys or retrieve that glass of water.
These mild memory lapses are usually just part of the normal aging process. But when forgetfulness begins to impact daily activities, you may need to talk with your doctor about your concerns.
You begin to lose brain cells a few at a time in your twenties. At the same time, your body starts to make less of the chemicals that brain cells need to work. As you age, these changes affect your memory.
Short-term memory (what you had for breakfast) and remote memory (where you spent your childhood) usually do not change, but recent memory (the name of someone you met recently) may be affected by aging.
To combat these minor memory gaps, try staying more organized. Keep lists, color code or label items, follow a routine and mark dates on a calendar. Remember to put important things – keys, for example – in the same place every time. Other things that can help refresh your memory include repeating someone’s name when you first meet them and remembering a location by relating it to a familiar landmark.
Some memory loss, however, may have other causes, such as depression, thyroid disease, nutritional deficiencies, drug side effects, stroke, head injury, alcoholism, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia.
To evaluate memory loss, your doctor may take a medical history, perform physical and neurological examinations, request blood or urine tests, or conduct brain imaging studies. Results are evaluated to determine if the cause of memory loss can be treated or is due to a more serious condition.
People with MCI experience memory lapses and often struggle to perform self-care tasks like taking medications. They are able to function independently, but may need prompting to remember.
The main risk factors for developing the disease are age and family history. There is no cure for the disease, but drugs are available to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
While memory loss cannot be prevented, there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk of developing memory problems:
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke or abuse alcohol
- Follow a healthy diet
- Engage in social activities
- Keep your brain active
The difference between normal cases of forgetfulness and more serious problems is that, with dementia, symptoms gradually get worse over time.
It’s one thing to forget where you parked the car on occasion, but quite another to frequently miss appointments. Talk with your doctor if you feel memory loss may be preventing you from performing daily tasks or affecting your quality of life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing memory loss, call the Institute for Mental Health at St. Mary’s Medical Center at (561) 840-6040 for more information or to schedule an appointment.