Aging and Memory Loss
About 1 of every 5 Americans in their 70s experiences some form of mild memory loss. When an older adult begins to experience memory loss, they may experience role confusion. They might feel they are no longer a productive member of society. This can lead to feelings of depression and despair. By understanding what is normal in memory loss and acting to delay or prevent any further loss of memory, aging adults can feel a better sense of self and continue to feel useful and involved in society.
There are three different kinds of memory. Semantic memory is the ability to recall concepts and general facts. This type of memory continues to improve across the lifespan. Procedural memory is remembering how to do things. This typically remains constant. Episodic memory is the “what”, “where”, and “when” of daily life. Episodic memory, along with long-term memory, tends to decline slightly as we age. It is also normal for the ability to learn new things or to multi-task to decline or slow down with age.
Not all memory loss is due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss is also influenced by physical factors such as dehydration, infections, poor nutrition, and thyroid imbalance.Psychological factors like depression, anxiety, and psychological stress are also contributors.Side effects from certain medications and substance abuse can also result in declines in memory.
So, what can be done? Quite a bit. There are proven ways that older adults can minimize declines in memory as they age. The first is to get social. Socializing can help improve your mood and your memory function. Next is to get moving. Regular physical activity helps boost and maintain brain function. In addition to exercising your body, exercise your brain. Using mnemonic strategies to remember things such as names will help improve your learning ability and your memory.
Third, stay positive and confident. Don’t buy into all the ageist talk about inevitable memory decline. Staying positive about aging can improve your memory. Don’t assume that every small memory lapse means dementia. Use memory aids to build up and maintain confidence. Fourth, take good care of your eyes and ears. If you can’t see well or can’t hear, you’re going to have a harder time learning something new. Wear your prescription glasses and hearing aids if you have them and be sure to get regular testing done. And finally, avoid distractions. Keep things simple. Avoid trying to do many things at once. Keep your mind on the task at hand.
While it is normal to have mild declines in memory as we age, there are things you can do to be sure that you don’t experience greater loss. Taking care of yourself physically and using the tips mentioned above can make a real difference in how your brain reacts to the aging process and how well you retain your memory.