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Tips for keeping memory loss at bay

Written by by Jim Berger. Posted in August

Summer is here! What a great time of year, with all those fun outdoor activities—picnics, sports, strolls, and swimming pools. The simple message is be safe, don’t overdo it, drink plenty of water, and, if the heat index is high, find a place that has air-conditioning and stay inside!

 

As I write another article on health and wellness management, I’d like to focus on a slightly different topic that many have faced and that I am facing with a family member at this time—memory loss.

At times, we all forget things such as names, the right word, and where we put items (especially our keys). Should we be worried about this? Let’s start with trying to understand memory loss and dementia. Memory can be affected by fatigue, nutrition, common illnesses, other medical conditions like a urinary tract infection (UTI), and even age. A variety of medicines can impair memory. Use of alcohol and other substances can impair memory. Memory also can vary with a person’s attitude, mood, and motivation. Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored can cause confusion. Again any of these factors can cause individuals to be forgetful or have memory loss.

Dementia involves serious problems with two or more brain functions, such as memory and language. Individuals with dementia may lose the ability to solve problems and control emotions, and their personalities may change. Individuals in this category may have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or even stroke.

Some examples of more serious memory problems include getting lost in a very familiar place, not being able to follow directions, not taking care of oneself (eating, dressing, bathing), and asking the same question over and over.

Many of us are more familiar with individuals with dementia-related memory loss. The individual can’t recall some activities or events that took place in the last few days. In my situation, I started seeing difficulty with my mom when she didn’t recall whether she ate or took her medications. When asked, she would respond, “Of course I took my pills, I always take them,” even when she hadn’t. When I look back now, I realize that her inability to recall information came on gradually. But she was able to do a good job of covering up, making some excuse why she didn’t recall what was asked. Just recently she has started sharing, “I am having more difficulty remembering things.” What a scary situation and process to know that you are having more difficulty with your short-term memory and not knowing what you can do to stop it from happening.

Here’s what to do:

If you or someone you know is over the age of 60 and experiencing more frequent periods of forgetfulness, you need to recognize it, acknowledge it, and seek some medical insight. This medical insight may involve seeing your medical provider or a neurologist to determine whether the forgetfulness is caused by any of the contributors listed earlier. A number of tests can be administered to assist the medical provider in giving a more accurate diagnosis. The Toledo area has a number of very good neurologists who deal with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association is a wonderful resource in this area. The key is don’t brush it off. Seek experts who can provide you with clarity. Whatever is causing the decline in memory abilities can be addressed and managed.

After seeking medical intervention, the next step involves four areas of wellness:

Brain games

Brain-stimulation activities, such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, word search, reading, and jigsaw puzzles, can really help. Challenging your brain with such activities can help slow down memory loss. Learn a new skill, spend time with family and friends, and use memory tools such as a calendar, to-do lists, and notes. Put items such as keys or glasses in the same place each day.

Nutrition and diet

Eating healthy is vitally important, not just for memory loss, but also for our overall well-being. Eating more fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and fish and decreasing the amount of processed foods and sugars is important for all of us. Eating at least three meals a day and two to three small snacks a day is also recommended for a healthier lifestyle.

Exercise

Staying active is again essential for all of us physically and mentally. Inactivity leads to muscle loss, bone loss, weakness, and decrease in ability to perform daily activities. As we age, we all should do some form of strength training. This increases blood and oxygen flow throughout our body. As memory loss progresses, the brain loses the ability to transmit messages to our muscles to move.

Medication

Medication will not bring back memory, but it does have the potential to slow the memory-loss process. In the past five years, new medications have come on the market that are now the standard for individuals with memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Individuals on medication for memory loss and Alzheimer’s may feel that it isn’t helping because they are still experiencing memory issues. Again, the goal of the medication is to slow the memory loss, not reverse it.

If you or someone you know is having memory loss concerns, the best resource we have in Toledo is the Alzheimer’s Association located at 2508 N. Reynolds Rd., 43615, phone number 419-537-1999.

Physical therapy can assist individuals who may be experiencing memory loss along with muscle weakness that may be impacting their ability to walk safely. The therapist will work with the individual and the caregiver, instructing in exercises and strategies to keep the individual as safe as possible.

As I have shared, memory loss is a matter of health and wellness. Understanding why it occurs and what can be done about it is the starting point.❦a