A lot of people become more forgetful with age, and in some cases it is cause for concern, while with others it’s simply a natural aspect of mild cognitive decline due to age. Many older adults worry that memory lapses are an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
This can be a tricky situation, because on one hand there is no need to get stressed about a potential problem if it is not serious, but on the other hand, the sooner Alzheimer’s and dementia are diagnosed the better it is for managing the disease.
Memory issues can originate from a variety of sources, so if in doubt it is recommended to be examined by a professional to find out for sure.
Age-Related Memory Issues
Studies show that more than half of older adults over the age of 65 report being more forgetful than they used to be. This may involve things like forgetting where you parked the car or blanking on an item you were supposed to pick up at the supermarket.
As we all get older, the body and mind go through physiological changes. For instance, two areas in the brain, the hippocampus and the frontal lobe, both deteriorate and shrink with age. These areas are both associated with memory and cognitive function. The body also produces less of certain hormones over time, including hormones and proteins that are responsible for repair damaged cells in the brain and stimulating the growth of new neurons. Blood flow also takes a dip with age, meaning that less blood reaches the brain providing less of the required oxygen and nutrients.
Factors that May Impact Memory Loss
There are several factors that can contribute to memory problems of different levels of severity. Existing health conditions and emotional problems can sometimes play a role in memory loss.
A host of medical issues can have a direst impact on memory, some of these conditions may include:
- Head injuries or concussions from slip and fall accidents
- Kidney and liver damage or disorders
- Brain infections
- Blood clots
- Side effects or incompatibility of multiple medications
In some cases, severe emotional issues can affect the memory. These may include:
- Intense anxiety
- Chronic stress
- Coping mechanisms like substance abuse
Coping with the death of a spouse or loved one can end up disrupting cognitive function, making a person more forgetful than normal. These issues are usually temporary, and can be corrected with the right support and treatment.
Dementia-Related Memory Issues
In other cases, feeling like you are becoming more forgetful may be a more serious cause for concern. Since the symptoms of dementia can be so difficult to identify, it can be worrisome when memory issues persist.
Studies show that seniors who consistently vocalize concerns about memory issues are 4.5 times more likely to develop some form of dementia. This trend suggests that it is a good idea to get checked out officially by a doctor for persistent memory concerns.
The main difference between age-related memory problems and the onset of dementia is the impact these memory lapses have on daily life. For example, someone who forgets an appointment now and then, or can’t remember a name is likely not impacted in daily life by these minor lapses. However, if incidents of this nature are happening frequently, and the individual has no recollection of these occurrences, then there may be a more serious issue. Also, it is typical for people with progressing dementia to forget what they did earlier in the day, but have no trouble remembering details of an event that happened years ago.
It is generally friends and family members close the individual that first begin to notice episodes happening more frequently, and they start to think there is something wrong. Increased anxiety is a common symptom for people in early stages of dementia, as the individual also starts to recognize on some level that something is amiss, but are either in denial or may be confused or disoriented. Anxiety can further exacerbate memory problems.
If you suspect yourself or a loved one may be suffering from progressive cognitive impairment, it is recommended to address the situation as soon as possible. The earlier dementia is detected the better.