Short-Term Memory Loss VS DementiaPosted on September 8, 2014 by ElderCare Resources Phoenix in Blog, Dementia Care, Memory Loss
Are your memory gaps a sign of trouble?
When do those misplaced keys, missing cellphone or loss of words add up to something more than a simple mental lapse?
Not all moments of absent-mindedness indicate cognitive problems as one ages, but experts say one should be alert to signs that signal significant changes.
“It’s not so much about how aging leads to memory loss, and that’s what a lot of people think,” said geriatric specialist Dr. Daniel Wollman, medical director for Bishop Wicke Health Center in Shelton and Hancock Hall in Danbury. “What I like to say is that there is nothing normal about the phrase `It’s just normal aging’ when people are experiencing significant memory loss.”
These more severe gaps in memory could be a sign of dementia, an illness that typically affects older adults. It is a group of cognitive disorders whose symptoms include loss of memory and function that disrupts daily life. The fatal and progressive Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. In Connecticut, 72,000 people have the disease, with the number expected to grow to 91,000 by 2025.
One of the risk factors for developing dementia is age, but Dr. Stephen Jones, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Greenwich Hospital, said age doesn’t automatically carry with it decreased cognitive ability or an onset of dementia. “When you are 18 and you forget your car keys, it’s just an annoyance, but when you are 80, you get nervous and think that something is wrong with you,” he said.
Jones likens cognitive changes to physical ones — an older runner can still run the same distance he or she did when younger, but it may take a bit longer. “It may take longer for that circuit to connect, but the message should still get there with clarity,” he said of an aging brain. “If it takes you a couple of extra seconds to recall or think about something, or think of a word, that is not necessarily a problem.”
The problem occurs when people start forgetting things they shouldn’t — how to make it home while in their neighborhood, loved ones’ names or a strategy to recall that information. Still, experts said even the tiniest concern should be shared with a medical professional who can better assess — through evaluations, blood tests and other tools — the genetic and environmental risk factors.
“As people age, your speed of retrieval may slow a bit,” said Dr. Howard Weiner, chief of the psychiatric department’s inpatient unit at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “But if your short-term memory is affected you should see a doctor. Don’t just chalk that up to aging.”
In the early stages, a condition such as Alzheimer’s may benefit from therapies that slow the process, he said. As with other conditions, staying in good health and reducing stress appears to be good for the brain. “A doctor can best advise if testing is necessary,” he said.
One can also find resources at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Connecticut chapter. Tania Paparazzo, the southwest regional director, said in addition to community programs, she directs people to the association’s “Know the 10 Signs” campaign, which lists Alzheimer’s warning signs.
“If you do start to notice signs, it’s important to be an active player in developing a plan,” she said. “People can start to panic and convince themselves they have dementia, but there are a lot of conditions that can cause memory loss that are reversible.”
When it comes to those moments when an appointment slips one’s mind, planning is everything.
“I am a great `to-do list’ person,” said Myra Marcus, a clinical social worker who recently opened a psychotherapy and counseling practice in Greenwich. In a world of multitasking and divided attention, she said it can be hard to concentrate, which takes a toll on one’s recall ability.
“You have to be real conscious of your surroundings and pay attention,” she said. She suggested keeping your cellphone or keys in the same place, recording important dates or appointments, posting reminders of pressing tasks and making sure to exercise the mind through reading, card games or brain teasers. It not only helps with recall, but studies have shown it also helps people generate new brain cells and neural connections even as they age.
“You can certainly learn new things at any age,” said Marcus. “And, you should.”