By Dr. Nora DeVoe, Ph.D.
Geriatric Care Manager


Concerns About Memory Lapses

Imagine being deep in a conversation and all of a sudden, you forget a key word. You know it, but cannot retrieve it. Then just as suddenly, you recall the elusive word and laugh it off as a senior moment. That kind of "tip of the tongue" occurrence is among the most common memory slip ups people experience. While fears of Alzheimer's may strike, it may be nothing to worry about, especially if you recalled the word later.

We all know that are knees at age 60 are not the same as they were at age 20. It is the same with the brain. People can get really worked up about their brain not being the way it was when they were younger, but it does not mean there is a serious problem. Some change is normal. The aging trajectory is very individual and gradual. Lifestyle, genetics, diseases, education- all of these and more- contribute to a person's mental health. Nonetheless, there are some commonalities that can be seen population -wide.

Studies show that declines in cognitive function and changes in brain structure are evident in people who do not have Alzheimer's symptoms. Even so called super-agers, people who thrive into their 80's and 90's, experience some cognitive changes. However, if memory slips are frequent and/or worsening, it is important to discuss it with your physician.

Memory problems can have many causes. For example, grief and depression can make it difficult to concentrate and remember. People who sleep too much or too little also may experience mood as well as memory issues. There are several other conditions that can affect recall, concentration, and comprehension. Damage to blood vessels in the brain that reduces or blocks blood flow can cause vascular dementia. When the major blood vessels are obstructed, a stroke can occur. It is also possible to have mini-strokes that are barely noticeable. Over time, however, these mini-strokes can disrupt regions of the brain that are important for memory and thinking. Symptoms of vascular dementia, such as memory loss, can be similar to those of Alzheimer's disease. Early on, a person with vascular dementia will more likely exhibit poor judgement and have difficulty making decisions, planning, and organizing.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are another condition that may affect memory. There is some misinformation about these bacterial infections. UTI's are not the cause of memory problems per se, but the discomfort of the infection can cause some older people to be confused, lack focus, and in some cases, experience hallucinations. When the UTI is resolved, often with a short course of antibiotics, the symptoms abate.

Thyroid disease is yet another possible cause of memory problems. The thyroid gland makes hormones that help regulate organ function. If the gland works too fast or too slow it can affect mental health functions, making it difficult to remember, focus, and recall information. Vitamin deficiencies may also cause memory disturbances, particularly the B and D vitamins.

Preserving and protecting memory and staying sharp as you age is a multifaceted endeavor. What you do for your brain also can help keep the rest of your body healthy too. The Mediterranean diet and physical activity that increase the heart rate are beneficial to the brain and heart. Lifelong learning, be it memorizing phone numbers or taking an art class, helps keep the brain in good condition. Indulge your curiosity by trying something new. Your brain loves and thrives on novelty. Read and discuss what you read with other people. It is very important to socialize because isolation is bad for the brain and overall health.

There are now so many new opportunities to try different exercises and adult learning classes at the many senior centers and schools in our area. So try something new, and keep trying different types of adventures to keep you and your brain staying healthy and sharp.

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Nora DeVoe is a Gerontologist specializing in Eldercare and Caregiver issues. She may be reached at (716) 667-7299.  

Dr. Nora is a ....