By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
When we're 22 and we lose our keys, forget a password, or leave something somewhere, we don't panic too much. We just shrug it off and say to ourselves, “Well, I spaced out. Kind of stressful, but oh well.”
But once we start reaching our 50s, another preoccupation begins to grip our mind.
In a 2016 study by Susan Krauss, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, for people 55 and over, the Number One age-related worry is a change in memory.
Usually, this is because people think that they have...the dreaded Alzheimer's!
So, let's look at how likely that is. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.5 million adults will develop it. And Alzheimer's is a disease that is neither preventable or treatable.
But don't panic just yet. The fine print says that these statistics actually include "dementia", which is potentially treatable.
While ideally, you should consult a neuropsychologist if you suspect a cognitive problem, look to other factors first. Your poor memory could be due to: stress, lack of sleep, depression, or medications that you take.
A senior moment, like many things, could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you assume that you're experiencing one, the worry may cause elevated levels of stress, which leads to even worse memory.
Don't get into that feedback loop. Before you freak out, get to the root of the problem. However...
Be Aware of Early Warning Signs of Dementia
According to Richard J. Kryscio, professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the warning signs for Alzheimer's may present up to 12 years before the diagnosis.
In his 2014 study, conducted on 531 people who were not diagnosed with dementia and evaluated annually, he found that patients reporting memory problems at some point within ten years were three times more likely to develop serious cognitive problems later in life.
56% of those people reported some changes to memory around age 82, 1/6th developed dementia in the time the study was conducted, and 80% reported serious changes to memory early on in the experiment.
However, it doesn't necessarily mean that your brain is helpless in the face of impending dementia. Fading memory can sometimes be helped.
Your Senior Moment Could Be Caused by Medications
Your brain could have some organic issue, but it's also likely that the meds you take for other ailments aren't helping. 18% of those over 65 complain about memory issues, and have mild cognitive deficits. And 90% of those 65 or older take at least one medication.
If you're taking more than one medication, it increases your chance of an adverse reaction, when the meds mix.
Connections have been made between poor memory and common products to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching, and allergies.
According to Dr. Clara Tannenbaum, research chair at Montreal Geriatric University Institute, 162 studies confirm that medications have a negative effect on the otherwise healthy.
In 68 trials, products with benzodiazepines, commonly used to alleviate insomnia and anxiety, consistently lead to problems with memory and concentration.
Other culprits might be zolpidem, amitriptyline, diazepam, imipramine, promethazine, and hydroxyzine.
Unlikely...but Your Memory Loss Could be Due to Really Good Sex
Yes, that's a thing that exists. It's only serious if the blanking out is happening on a really regular basis, though.
Known as "transient global amnesia", it is the temporary loss of memory caused by sex, and it makes you forget everything over a short period of time.
In a real-life case study from the U.S., a woman had sex and couldn't remember anything from the last 24 hours.
Scientists think it might be triggered by the misfiring of valves in the neck. Instead of shutting, they stay open to let the pressure to the stomach push oxygenless blood back to the jugular veins and into the section of the brain that controls memory.
Weight lifting may also cause that effect, so if you are someone who does heavy exercise, you should also watch out.
So, how do I know if it's Alzheimer's?
An Alzheimer's questionnaire has been developed to get a preliminary analysis.
It has five categories: memory, orientation, ability to function, visuospatial ability, and language.
A score of 15 or higher indicates Alzheimer's. A score of between 5 and 14 points to mild cognitive impairment.
Some examples of questions are:
Does the patient repeat questions, statements, or stories in the same day?
Does the patient suspect others of moving, hiding, or stealing items when he or she can’t find them?
Is the patient having trouble using appliances?
Does the patient become disoriented in unfamiliar places?
Does the patient have difficulty recognizing people who are familiar to him or her?
Researchers at the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City Arizona also found that those with mild cognitive disorder tend to have trouble knowing the date or time, have issues managing their finances, and have a decreased sense of direction.
It is important to pinpoint these changes early on, according to Richard S. Isaacson, MD, a neurologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine: “The earlier you diagnose Alzheimer’s or MCI, the earlier you treat and the better patients will do.” He recognizes that the questionnaire “is not a major blood test or spinal tap, but it is something that anyone can do.”
While more tools are needed to evaluate, we know that there are some things that will definitely prevent it.
Lifestyle changes including exercising regularly will assist in protecting memory for people who already have MCI and may stop it from turning into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
So, what can I do about it?
There are some really easy, everyday things you can do to prevent those “senior moments.” Scott Roberts, PHD associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, recommends the following three actions:
Yes, indeed. This can make a significant difference. According to Roberts, people who exercise do better on neuropsychological tests than those who don't. It might have to do with the increased nerve growth factor, a substance used by brain cells in order to improve circulation, which boosts the memory.
You don't have to kill yourself at the gym, unless you're into that. About 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, including walking, will do.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are obese in middle age, you are four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's or other kinds of dementia. Ouch! The brain damage may be due to the inflammatory substances caused by fat. Make sure that along with exercise, you eat an enjoyable and healthy diet.
3. Stay Cerebrally Sparky