Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly forgotten what you were looking for? Or had a conversation in which a certain word eludes you no matter how hard you try to retrieve it? Temporary memory lapses, commonly called "senior moments," can have any number of explanations: from a brief lack of focus to a vitamin deficiency, from temporary stress to full-blown depression or from mild cognitive impairment to the beginning signs of dementia.
Is There a Pattern?
According to the Mayo Clinic, cognitive issues that require medical attention reveal themselves as a pattern of behavior--anything from neglecting to toss spoiled fruit from the refrigerator to regularly calling people by the wrong name. If the pattern persists over a period of weeks, begin by considering a host of treatable causes:
• Depression. People with depression may get a condition called pseudodementia, a type of cognitive impairment that mimics dementia but is actually caused by a mental-health condition. "Depression can make the brain less efficient, and cause cognitive clouding and confusion, and difficulty with decision-making," says Dylan Wint, MD, director of education in Neurodegenerative Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Brain Health.
Especially among older adults, depressive symptoms can overlap with early signs of dementia. Understanding the symptoms of depression and getting an accurate assessment from a professional are important first steps in monitoring memory loss.
• Side Effects of Medication. Statins for example, which are commonly prescribed for elevated cholesterol levels, are reported by the FDA to cause memory loss in some users. Over-the-counter medications containing Benadryl can cause confusion if taken in conjunction with memory-boosting medications, as can Prednisone, a steroid commonly used to reduce inflammation. If the medications you or a loved one take have changed recently, make an appointment with a doctor to review them for possible complicating side effects.
• Dehydration. Being insufficiently hydrated---especially among older adults---is a frequent cause of confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, and other symptoms that look like dementia. Many of us do not drink enough water, especially if physically active or taking medications like diuretics and laxatives that contribute to fluid loss.
• Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Do you follow a vegan diet? If you do, you probably know that your body doesn't make vitamin B12 but relies on it from animal-based foods. Those with a restricted diet are advised to take a supplement. Do you take acid-reducing medications or have a condition that effects your small intestine like Crohn's Disease? These could make it more difficult for your body to absorb the important nutrient, which if left untreated, can cause a host of problems including depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes. A simple blood test can rule out this as a cause.
For additional information on the treatable causes of memory loss, click here.
Is It Dementia?
Your memory is not likely to be as sharp at 50 as it was when you were 20. But normal memory decline should not interfere with your life.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is often the first step in the decline of normal brain functioning, the primary sign being a pattern of memory loss that you and your family notice. Typical examples are forgetting appointments, asking the same question repetitively, or getting lost on familiar routes. MCI is not usually severe enough to prevent you from being independent, and the condition can remain stable or even improve with time, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Abnormal cognitive decline---severe memory loss that affects your day-to-day life---is the hallmark of dementia. There are different types of dementia, many of which have overlapping symptoms. A medical evaluation can identify the type, severity and course of treatment.
Exercise is a Brain Booster
Researchers are discovering that exercise with at least the intensity of a brisk walk about 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can lower the risk of developing dementia. The connection is not entirely clear, but the possibilities include increased brain volume and growth of new brain cells, improved connections among existing cells and improved blood flow to the brain. Just one more reason to stay active.
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Source: Mayo Clinic