As we age, most of us worry about becoming forgetful, thinking it is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But forgetfulness alone is not necessarily a sign of a serious problem, but a sign of normal aging. It may take longer to learn a new skill, or new information may not be retained as readily as it once was. As a person ages, they may find that complex problems are not quickly as quickly solved as they might have been when younger. These symptoms alone signify mild forgetfulness, a normal function of aging.
Some more serious memory problems may be related to health issues, which can be treated once identified. Some may be related to things as simple as stress brought on by changes to routine or significant life changes related to the death of a spouse or even retirement. It is important to seek help from a physician if the symptoms don’t fade within a couple of weeks.
Mild forgetfulness may be exasperating, but it should not impact a person’s ability to maintain an independent lifestyle. Adopting new strategies may help manage changes in thinking and memory. Here are some simple tips that can be used to reinforce the memory:
- Use to-do lists or calendars to help you track tasks, events, and appointments. Mnemonics to help retain details.
- Get physical. Simple aerobic exercise such as brisk walking can help with better brain function. And it has the added benefit of relieving feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases that could impact your thinking. Maintaining a healthy diet means limiting alcohol use, which can, over time, cause permanent brain damage.
- Stay social. Keep up friendships and develop new ones by volunteering or joining groups that match your interests.
- Develop mindfulness habits when handling important documents or objects. Slow down and focus on the task.
- Establish routines around where everyday items are kept, such as keys or the remote control. Have a dedicated place where important correspondence can be deposited.
There is a range of memory problems that may not be treatable and maybe more serious.
Mild Cognitive Impairment is frequently, but not always, a precursor to Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis of MCI may be made when a person exhibits more problems with memory, language, and judgment than normal for their age. While it creates challenges, this level of dementia is unlikely to hinder a person’s ability to carry out the normal functions of daily living. When memory problems begin to interfere with a person’s ability to function in daily life, vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s maybe the diagnosis.
Anyone who is worried about memory problems, whether it be normal changes that come with aging, mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer’s or related dementia, should see a doctor and be evaluated physically and mentally. If the diagnosis is one of the more serious and degenerative types, there may be treatment options available that can slow the progression of the disease. Monitoring the progression of symptoms from an early stage can help the physician determine the best treatment plan. And an earlier diagnosis of serious brain disease can help a person make long term plans while they still have the capacity to do so.
Knowing a diagnosis can help a person put together long-term plans, develop a network of support and ensure that the remaining years are lived on their terms.