It's normal to forget things every now and then. Many of us have misplaced our keys, forgotten a friend's name or a phone number we have called many times before. When we're young forgetting does not concern us as much as when we're older. As we age,forgetting information we use on a daily basis can cause a great deal of worry and concern about what's normal and what's not normal when it comes to aging and memory loss.
We experience physiological changes that impact our ability to retain and recall both new and old information as we grow older. Even the speed with which we process information slows down. Information is stored in several different parts of our memory. Remembering what you had for breakfast is stored in recent memory. Remembering the title of a movie you just watched or the name of a person you met moments ago is stored in short-term memory and information stored from years ago, such as memories of childhood is stored in our long term memory.
Forgetfulness and lapses in memory are a common complaint among older adults. Although normal aging can result in difficulty learning and retaining new material, normal aging itself is not a cause of significant memory decay. In fact, short-term and remote memories are usually not affected by aging. Only recent memory weakens as we age and many conditions other than aging can cause this kind of memory loss such as depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, drug and alcohol abuse, side effects of medications, and certain infections.
So the question is, "How can a person tell if he or she has memory impairments that require a professional evaluation?". Memory problems are serious and need professional attention if your daily life and functioning is impacted. For example, if you have difficulty remembering how to do things you have done many times before, repeat phrases or stories in the same conversation, have trouble making decisions or handling money, forget how to get to a place you have been to often, or difficulty doing daily routines that require multiple steps such as following a recipe. Also, pervasive memory loss often negatively impacts family relationships, social activities, hobbies, and work. On the contrary, in normal aging changes in memory are slow and do not get worse over several months or years and social functioning is rarely affected.
Exercising regularly, staying social, positively managing stress, eating a well balanced diet made up of fruits and vegetables, not smoking, getting plenty of sleep, and doing brain exercises(crossword puzzles, reading, and chess)have all been found to help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline in older adults. Keeping track of important dates, phone numbers, and schedules by using checklists or an electric calendar or day planner can help individuals experiencing troublesome memory loss stay focused and organized.
It is important to seek professional help if you or a loved one is experiencing frequent memory lapses. Talking to a professional will help determine the causes underlying your memory problems and proper treatment can then be started.
This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. I am a licensed psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. For questions or comments regarding this article, I can be reached at 484-431-8710 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com