Memory problems are common as people age. In fact, we’ve all been there. We walk into a room and forget why we wanted to go into that room. We forget where we put our keys or our glasses.
However, there are varying degrees of forgetfulness. Mild forgetfulness is considered a normal part of the aging process. As we age, it can take longer to learn new things, it can be more difficult to remember information and it is common to misplace possessions like keys and glasses.
Other types of memory issues can indicate a more serious problem, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
This month, we’re going to look at less serious memory issues – why they can occur and tips for dealing with and avoiding them. Next month, we’ll look at the more serious problems.
Let’s start by looking at the two main causes of mild forgetfulness – emotional and health issues.
Forgetfulness that is caused by emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety and depression, can often be mistaken for dementia because it can be accompanied by confusion. It can be triggered by losing a spouse, relative or good friend; or even retiring from a long career.
Think about someone you know who has lost a spouse. Coping with the loss often leaves them feeling a bit confused, sad, lonely, worried and bored. This confusion and forgetfulness is usually temporary and will go away over time.
The love and support from friends and family will help ease these emotions. However, if these feelings continue for more than a year or so, it might be wise to see a doctor or counselor.
Health issues, some of which may be treatable, can also create forgetfulness. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency, medication side effects and chronic alcoholism can create memory problems. Some thyroid, kidney or liver disorders; or tumors, infections or blood clots in the brain could also be the culprit.
For any of these types of issues, you should see a doctor immediately so that it can be treated properly.
But don’t become discouraged if you are dealing with mild forgetfulness. There are a variety of techniques to help maintain memory and mental skills, such as:
• Make “to-do” lists. The task of writing down tasks, as well as the written reminder, helps people remember what they need to do at any given time. Make use of memory aids, such as sticky notes, white boards and calendars.
• Learn new hobbies or investigate new interests, so that you can stay involved in activities that help the mind and body. Some of these activities, such as exercise and even new hobbies, can also help relieve feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
• Engage in physical activity. Several studies have associated exercise with improved brain function. Depending on one’s age and condition, this doesn’t have to be a strenuous exercise routine. It can be as simple as a getting up from a chair and stretching, or taking a short walk.
• Limit alcohol use. Studies have indicated that heavy or binge drinking over time can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage.
Hopefully, these ideas will help. Again, if you or a loved one experiences memory problems that are not going away over time, please talk to a doctor.