Memory Issues?

This senior’s mind is not what it used to be.  Not that it was ever the sharpest tool in the shed, but it certainly was in better shape then than it is now.  But the outlook is not hopeless for any of us seniors.

Let’s take a few minutes to consider some habits or behaviors we might exhibit that could affect our memory positively or negatively.  Some indicators might seem obvious and others maybe not so much so.  They all are relevant to the issue of our memory.

Adequate sleep is essential.  Inadequate sleep makes our brain foggy and more difficult to facilitate recall.  If we’re foggy, our minds tend to wander and thus are less able to form memories.  Good “sleep hygiene” helps to focus our thinking.  Eight hours a night is a good goal to pursue along with daily, regular exercise.  Establish a regular sleep schedule and avoid stimulants, such as alcohol and caffeine late in the day.

Drugs that sedate us, such as tranquilizers and sleep aids, can weaken our memories.  But there are other culprits that we might not expect such as antihistamines, blood pressure meds, and antidepressants.  Additionally, we may react differently than someone else to the same pill or combination of pills.  We should tell our doctor about any memory issues we have when we start a new medication.  They may be able to adjust the dose or prescribe an alternative.

People with diabetes are more susceptible to memory issues including dementia.  It may be because high blood sugar damages the small capillaries in the brain.  Another possibility is that high insulin damages brain cells.  Scientists continue to work on the problem.  We might be able to slow memory decline if we try to prevent or control our diabetes with medicine, exercise, and a healthy diet.

Genes, or traits we get from our parents, influence our memory status and whether or not we get dementia.  But it’s complicated.  Genetics influence some types of dementia more than others.  A gene may affect one person but have no effect on another.  A genetic test may provide some useful information.

Age is probably the most widely known contributor to memory loss.  When memory loss begins to interfere with daily life in a significant manner, doctors call it dementia.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.  Yes, our genes do play a role in why this occurs, but so do things like diet, exercise, social life, and illness like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

A stroke occurs when the flow of blood is restricted from part of our brain.  Afterward, damaged brain tissue makes it hard to think, speak, remember, or pay attention.  The term used to describe this is vascular dementia.  Small strokes over a period of time can do the same thing.  

The risk of small strokes can be caused by high blood pressure, heart disease, and smoking.  If we fear such a stroke, we need to remember: F-A-S-T: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech problems, Time to call 911.

Smoking shrinks parts of our brain that helps us think and remember things.  Additionally, it raises our risk of dementia, because it’s bad for our blood vessels, which raises our risk of stroke.  If we wish to quit, ask the doctor or mental health professional.

Heart Disease can occur when plaque builds up in our arteries and slows blood flow to our brain and other organs.  This is atherosclerosis.  It can make it more difficult to think clearly and remember things.  It can also lead to a heart attack or stroke, which also raises our chances of dementia.  Even if we don’t have heart disease, conditions such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure, make dementia more likely.

High Blood Pressure is also recognized as hypertension.  This is another risk factor for memory problems and dementia because it damages the tiny blood vessels in the brain.  We need to watch our diet, get adequate and regular exercise, and stay on top of our medications to slow or prevent brain decline.

 Depression and Anxiety can contribute to loss of memory issues.  They also contribute to dementia, though scientists don’t yet know why that happens.  It might be helpful to talk with our health care provider if depression and anxiety interfere with our normal daily life.  Therapy and/or medication can also help.

A Head Injury (traumatic brain injury) can also affect short-term memory. We might forget appointments or feel unsure of what we did earlier in the day. Rest, medicine, and medical rehab can help us recover. Repeated hits to our noggin, as in boxing or football, raises our risk for dementia later in life. We need to get to the hospital if we hit our head and then pass out or have blurry vision or feel nauseous.

If we are Obese, our body mass index (BMI) is over 30 in middle age or above, we have a higher risk for dementia. Extra pounds anytime makes heart disease more likely, which also sometimes leads to brain decline and memory problems. We can calculate our BMI online with our height and weight. We should talk to our doctor about the right weight for us. We may be able to improve ours with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Regular exercise lessens the risk of brain decline, memory problems, and dementia. It also seems to improve brain function in those who already have dementia. We don’t have to go out and run a marathon or take up pole vaulting. Just get out and garden, walk, swim, or even dance for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

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