Who hasn’t misplaced a set of keys, walked into a room only to wonder seconds later why or sworn something was in a drawer that clearly wasn’t anymore?
Memory loss can be frustrating. But as we get older, it’s sometimes accompanied by a nagging feeling that perhaps these are more than mere senior moments — that maybe there’s something far more serious occurring in our brains, such as dementia.
How can we tell? A certain amount of memory loss should be expected as we age. Misplacing keys or forgetting someone’s name shouldn’t be cause for alarm. But forgetting a person altogether, what day it is or how to get to a familiar place is a signal that something could be amiss.
Dementia is a general term describing a wide range of symptoms associated with memory and skills for daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that at least two of the following must be present for a diagnosis of dementia: problems with memory, problems with communication and language, inability to focus or pay attention, difficulty with reasoning and judgment, or difficulty with visual perception.
They also list ten warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease: memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or problem-solving skills, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images, problems with speaking or writing, misplacing things or being unable to trace your steps, decreased judgment, withdrawal from work or social activities, and changes in moos or personality.
If you, a loved one or a caretaker notice these signs, consult your healthcare provider.
Most people, however, are likely just experiencing the normal decline in memory that occurs as we grow older. And just as we strive to keep our bodies in shape, there are steps we can take to prevent or delay these lapses. The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips for keeping our brains sharp — at any age.
Stay mentally active. Do crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Challenge your brain.
Check medications. Ask your pharmacist if you take any medicines that may cause memory problems.
Socialize. Staying socially active reduces the risk for depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss. So get out, make new friends and spend time with old ones. It’s good for your mental and emotional health.
Organize your life. You’re less likely to misplace things if you keep your home and office organized. Make lists, keep a calendar and reduce clutter. Keep your keys in a place where you won’t forget them.
Get plenty of rest. A lack of sleep can contribute to memory loss. So be sure to stay well rested!
Eat well. A healthy diet also helps to preserve memory. In contrast, drinking too much alcohol or not taking in enough water can damage one’s memory.
Stay physically active. Exercise increases the blood flow to the brain. If you need another reason to get up and move, here it is!
Keep chronic conditions under control. Chronic conditions such as kidney problems, depression or thyroid issues can also damage memory, as can some medications. So stay on top of any illnesses and consult your provider if medications are causing troublesome side effects.
If you’ve tried all of these to no avail — or if you fear a loved one may be experiencing the symptoms of dementia — don’t hesitate to seek medical care.