Understanding Memory Loss
Culturally we look at 20 years of age as a young adult on the doorstep of being a socially recognized legal adult about to embark on personal independence.
Scientifically however, at 20 years of age, a person’s brain is deemed “mature” and memory loss begins.
Culturally we look at 20 years of age as a young adult on the doorstep of being a socially recognized legal adult about to embark on personal independence. Scientifically however, at 20 years of age, a person’s brain is deemed “mature” and memory loss begins. It has been determined that learning or “knowledge acquisition” and forgetting or “delayed recall” both decline as a person ages. Research has found that there is no relationship between memory loss and the amount of education an individual has acquired beyond delay of symptoms. Higher education does not preclude someone from developing dementia.
The part of the brain responsible for memory formation and retrieval is called the hippocampus. The body produces hormones and proteins that protect and stimulate this structure. As the natural aging process occurs, these substances are less abundant. Additionally, when medical conditions impair blood flow to the hippocampus (ie: hypertension and atherosclerotic disease), nutrients are less available to support proper hippocampus function and memory function can be impaired.
What can people do to continue to engage that part of their brain and prevent memory loss, or stimulate their memory upon loss?
Active engagement. Stimulate your mind. Challenge yourself to attain new information, learn new skills and be an active participant in your life. Take an active role in your own health management. Maintain regular health check ups, exercise, nourish your body with a well-balanced diet. Get plenty of rest/sleep.
What are some signs that memory loss is dementia related?
There is a distinct difference between normal memory loss associated with the aging process and abnormal memory loss due to dementia. Normal memory loss does not impair function, interfere with work, hobbies or relationships. Significant memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Abnormal memory loss or “dementia” can be the result of various causes.
Unlike normal memory loss such as forgetting where you parked your car, forgetting what you wanted to get from the grocery store or even missing an occasional appointment, memory loss that is concerning becomes disruptive to an individual’s well-being, may involve increased health and safety risk (ie: forgetting to turn off the stove, poor medication management including over or under medicating and poor decision making). It can involve impaired financial responsibility, emotional outbursts and unintentional risky behavior.
Typically, a self-reported memory loss does not result in a diagnosis of dementia. Individuals who have dementia typically do not bring it up to their healthcare provider. It is usually their family that seeks medical evaluation of their loved one’s memory loss. Are there any new studies or additional information people should know regarding memory loss, for example, are there preexisting conditions that make people more at risk, are there any external stimuli or habits that people engage in to make them predisposed for memory loss, etc.
Memory studies are ongoing.
There is a multitude of accepted as well as controversial preventative treatments for memory loss. What is certain is that there are many preexisting conditions that put individuals at more risk for both memory loss and dementia. Depression, malnutrition, stress, anxiety and fatigue can contribute to memory loss.
Multiple micro infarcts (strokes), abnormal thyroid function, B12 deficiency, alcohol consumption, radiation, illicit drugs and prescription medication (including but not limited to: analgesics/pain killers, anticholinergic drugs, psychotropic drugs and sedative-hypnotics) all play a role in memory loss/dementia.
If a person has concern regarding memory loss they should talk to their healthcare provider. Evaluation can include any or all of the following:
1. Physical exam and interview
2. Memory testing: a brief memory exam such as a Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), a Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and possibly a Neuropsychological evaluation
3. Blood work
4. Brain imaging with CT or MRI
When in doubt, I recommend getting an evaluation. Early diagnosis results in early intervention.