At some point in our lives, we will likely have to struggle with our own or our loved one’s journey through memory loss. We all deal with the “where are my keys” or “did I turn off the oven” versions of forgetfulness, but true memory loss is a broad term for any issues with forming, storing, or recalling memories.
Memory loss is when you have consistent issues remembering things you could previously recall. It can either be temporary or permanent. While some forms of it are more likely to happen as you age, more serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things such as driving, using the phone properly, or finding your way home.
The best first step is to talk with your or your loved one’s doctor to determine whether memory and other cognitive problems, such as the ability to clearly think and learn, are normal (age-related) and what may be causing them. For a definitive diagnosis, you’ll need to see a specialist such as a neurologist, geriatrician, or geriatric psychiatrist. If you can’t find one, visit this resource for recommendations for the neurology department of a nearby Medical School.
Memory loss may look like any of the following and may indicate it’s time to talk with your doctor:
- Asking the same question multiple times over
- Getting lost in places that were once well-known
- Having trouble following recipes and directions
- Becoming more confused about time, people and places
- Not taking care of oneself—eating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely
- Trouble remembering recent conversations
- Misplacing commonly used items
- Forgetting to pay bills or mishandling other responsibilities
Another form of memory loss is known as MCI, or mild cognitive impairment, meaning a senior may have more memory issues or thinking problems than other people their age. Seniors with MCI can usually take care of themselves and go about their normal activities on a daily basis. MCI may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s. If you have MCI, visit your doctor every six to 12 months to track changes in memory and other thinking skills over time. There may be habits and behaviors you can change and activities you can do to help your memory and thinking skills.
There are a variety of techniques that may help seniors dealing with memory loss stay healthy and deal with changes in their memory and mental skills. Below are some tips:
- Learn a new skill
- Follow a daily routine
- Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes
- Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day
- Stay involved in activities that can help the mind and body
- Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship
- Spend time with family and friends
- Get enough sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night
- Exercise and eat well
- Prevent or control high blood pressure
- Don’t drink a lot of alcohol
Memory loss can be a frightening issue to deal with, especially if you see it in yourself. Your or your loved one’s healthcare provider can look for or diagnose any issues you might have or offer suggestions. If you have a loved one who shows signs of memory loss, you should talk to them about it, as difficult as that conversation may be.
At present, there’s no way to treat memory loss itself and there are many possible causes, including depression, infection, or medication side effects. The main approach is to recognize and eliminate the underlying causes if possible, making it as easy as possible for the brain to heal.
Dementia, on the other hand, is not a normal part of aging. It includes the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, learning, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a person’s quality of life and activities. While there are different forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form in people over 65.
No matter their condition and stage of memory loss, it is important to keep our loved ones safe and well-cared for. If you are at all concerned about your senior and his or her ability to care for him or herself, an assisted living community, such as LCB Senior Living, might be exactly what you need. Feel free to reach out to us – we are here for you!