Speak, Memory : causes and prevention of memory loss.

What is normal memory loss, and what’s not? This is a frequent question I encounter.

Normal memory lapses include:

  • Absentmindedness. This usually occurs, when you aren’t paying close attention to the activity at hand, or your brain is full, also known as over committed.
  • Occasionally forgetting where you placed things.
  • Forgetting facts over time. Like computers, our brains need to purge old data to make room for new. Just think about our lifetime of memories. It’s a lot.
  • A “tip of the tongue” memory slip that you remember later.
  • Utilizing reminders to help you remember
  • Despite memory lapses, if your personality, social functioning, and mood remain the same, it’s a good indicator that it’s probably not something more serious.

Abnormal forgetting is more complex.
With dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a patient’s memory fails but so do other abilities. The most obvious is a decline in self-care. Early signs of dementia are when memory loss affects work, hobbies and social activities. Dementia also includes lapses in executive functioning: planning, organizing, breaking down tasks, sustaining effort, and task completion.

Indicators that something might be wrong:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly (perseveration).
  • Forgetting common words when speaking (aphasia)
  • Making up a story that seems to fit the situation, but may not be accurate (confabulation).
  • Mixing words up — saying “bed” instead of “table,” for example (substitutions).
  • Taking longer to complete familiar task (processing speed).
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer, or milk in the pantry instead of the refrigerator.
  • Getting lost while walking or driving in a familiar area
  • Having changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason, including sadness, irritability, anger.

Factors that result in memory loss:
Mild cognitive impairment
This involves a notable decline in at least one area of thinking skills, such as memory, that’s greater than the changes of aging and less than those of dementia. Having mild cognitive impairment doesn’t prevent you from performing everyday tasks and being socially engaged. Researchers and physicians are still learning about mild cognitive impairment. For many people, the condition eventually progresses to dementia, but not always.

Medications
Certain medications or a combination of medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion.

Minor head trauma or injury
A head injury from a fall or accident — even if you don’t lose consciousness can cause memory problems.  of course, loss of consciousness or dazed consciousness are indicators that memory needs to be carefully monitored.

Emotional disorders
Stress, anxiety, and depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities.

Alcoholism
Chronic alcoholism can seriously impair mental abilities. Alcohol can also cause memory loss by interacting with medications as well as by nutritional deficiencies, including alcohol induced persisting dementia.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency
Vitamin B-12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. A vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can be common in older adults, can cause memory problems.

Hypothyroidism
An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) can result in forgetfulness and other thinking problems.

Brain diseases
A tumor or infection in the brain can cause memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms.

Stress
Too much stress can overload our minds and cause distraction and brain drain.​ Short-term, acute stress can trigger a momentary memory problem, while chronic, long-term exposure to stress may increase your risk of more lingering memory problems. Stress management is an important strategy for maintaining quality of life and improving the health of your body and your brain.

Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are many: Less weight gain, more energy, and the ability to think more clearly. Being tired because you didn’t sleep well last night and being chronically short on sleep both have been shown to affect memory and learning. In fact, memory is consolidated during the REM cycle of sleep, where it is transferred from short-term to long-term storage.

Concussions and Head Injuries
Concussions and traumatic head injuries can cause short-term memory impairment, but some research has found that they can also also significantly increase the likelihood for the development of dementia over time.

Kidney Disorders​
When your kidneys aren’t working well, such as in chronic or acute kidney failure (also called renal failure), the accumulation of waste products, such as the inefficient breakdown of proteins, can affect brain function.

Liver Disorders
​Liver diseases, such as hepatitis, can cause toxins to be released into your bloodstream, which can then affect brain functioning. Hepatic encephalopathy is a brain disorder that can develop from serious liver problems.

Encephalitis
This acute infection of brain tissue may trigger symptoms of dementia, such as confusion and memory problems, along with a fever and headaches.

Pregnancy
Sometimes, the changes in the body’s chemicals and hormones, combined with the emotional and physical changes in pregnancy, can contribute to forgetfulness and poor concentration. Fortunately, this is a temporary condition that resolves in due time.

Menopause
Similar to pregnancy, the hormonal changes in menopause can bring chaos to thought processes and disturb sleep, which also impacts your cognitive processes. Short term memory loss is very common with menopause, but fortunately is temporary.

Strokes and long-term hypertension
Strokes can significantly affect brain functioning. Sometimes, the memory loss related to a stroke is permanent, but other times the cognitive functioning improves as the brain recovers, or receives medication.

Transient Ischemic Attacks
A TIA, also known as a “little stroke” is a brief blockage in the brain that can cause lapses in memory, along with other stroke-like symptoms. Symptoms usually resolve on their own, but treatment is important to prevent future strokes.

Brain Tumors
Brain tumors can cause headaches and physical problems, but they can also affect our memory and personality at times.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea, where you actually stop breathing for a few seconds while you’re sleeping, has been connected to a higher risk of dementia. A study published in 2018 also tied sleep apnea to every day memory problems.

Aging
As people age into older adulthood, cognitive processing generally slows down, and memory ability may slightly decline. For example, a healthy older person will still be able to memorize information, but it probably won’t be as easy as when they were a child or young adult.

Prevention
Keep learning
A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Cognitive research has shown that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill can function the same way. Read; join a book group; play chess or scrabble; write/journal; do crossword or jigsaw puzzles; take a class; pursue music or art; design a new garden or indoor plant areas. If you are right handed, try writing with your left hand.  At work, propose or volunteer for a project that involves a skill you don’t usually use. Building and preserving brain connections is an ongoing process, so make lifelong learning a priority.

Care for your health
You won’t have much luck with memory-improvement strategies if a health condition is sapping your learning ability. Many medical problems that become more common with age can impair cognitive skills if they go unrecognized or untreated. Here are some ways to protect yourself:

Treat diabetes
Surges in blood sugar hamper memory by reducing blood supply to the brain. In the well known Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study, women ages 70 to 81 performed worse on cognitive tests and showed more deterioration over a two-year period if they had type 2 diabetes. The decline was mitigated somewhat among those taking medication to control their glucose. Exercise is another way to improve blood sugar levels.

Control blood pressure
Some memory lapses result from reduced blood flow to the brain caused by high blood pressure. In a study of 20,000 women and men over age 45, published in 2009 in the journal Neurology, researchers found that the rate of memory problems increased by 7% for every 10-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading). There’s evidence that high blood pressure is especially damaging to memory in women.

Get treatment for sleep apnea
People with sleep apnea (a condition in which you stop breathing repeatedly during the night) score worse on memory and cognitive tests. Their scores rise if they use continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAPs) to keep airways open during sleep.

Address depression
Cognitive problems can be a symptom of depression. Older women who are depressed have worse cognitive function than non-depressed women, and their skills decline more rapidly with time. Among adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, those who are also depressed are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Keep an eye on cholesterol
High cholesterol appears to increase the risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease many years down the road. Experts don’t fully understand why, and they don’t know whether the problem is too much “bad” LDL cholesterol or too little “good” HDL cholesterol. A long-term study published in 2008 (involving 3,673 adults whose cholesterol and memory were measured at ages 55 and 61) found a link between low HDL levels and memory decline. It’s too soon to know whether raising HDL levels might ward off dementia, but it’s a good idea anyway to boost your HDL, through regular exercise, eliminating saturated and trans fat, and eating more monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola, and peanut oils.

Go Multi-Sensory
The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a specific scent. They were not asked to remember what they saw. Later, they were shown a set of images, this time without odors, and asked to indicate which they’d seen before. They had excellent recall for all odor-paired pictures, and especially for those associated with pleasant smells. Brain imaging indicated that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, became active when people saw objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells were no longer present and the subjects hadn’t tried to remember them.

Believe in yourself
Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age. Many cultures venerate elders and ancestors, where others are more youth centric. People who believe that they are not in control of their memory and overall daily functions are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline. If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.

Efficiency matters
Take advantage of calendars and planners, reminder apps, online maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often. Remove clutter from your office or home to minimize distractions, so you can focus on new information that you want to remember. I always tell people to make lists and write things down. There is no point in trying to keep everything in your head, thereby tying up important resources that can be used for other mental tasks.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

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Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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