Ask The Doctor

Memory Loss Is Not an Inevitable Part of Aging

Dear Dr. Garner,

I am 75 years old, and I constantly forget things. I forget where I left the keys, where I parked the car and my friends’ names.

I’ve been to my doctor who told me it’s normal age-related memory loss. I’m glad that it’s not Alzheimer’s disease, but I’m wondering if there is anything I can do about this, short of taking pills.

Forgetfulness in Flushing

 

Dear Forgetfulness,

I’m glad to hear that your doctor does not believe that you have Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. Occasional loss in memory is part of the normal aging process, not a warning sign of serious medical disease.

And serious memory loss from age 65 to 85 is not as common as most people believe. Only 5 to 7 percent of people in this age group are diagnosed with dementia. It’s natural to worry, but there are things you can do to keep your memory as sharp as possible.

Tips to Sharpen Memory

These steps have been shown to help sharpen memory at any age:

1. Get organized.

You are more likely to forget things in your home if everything is cluttered. Set aside a place to keep keys and other essentials.

2. Keep a to-do list.

Keep notes of errands that you have to run. It is also important to repeat out loud as you jot down the list. This helps the memory even more.

3. Sleep.

This is key to good memory. If we do not get enough sleep, our memory will suffer.

4. Be social.

Socializing is an important aspect of keeping the memory sharp. Try to attend functions and get together with your friends or family, especially if you live alone.

5. Stay mentally active.

Learn a new language, eat a meal using utensils in your non-dominant hand, do crossword puzzles, play an instrument or volunteer. Keeping mentally active will help to keep you alert and improve your memory.

6. Exercise regularly.

The brain is a mirror of what goes on in the heart and the blood circulation of your body. Regular exercise really is important for keeping memory sharp. Walking is a great way to fight memory loss. Research shows that walking one mile a day can prevent brain shrinkage and memory loss.

Older adults who walked between 6 and 9 miles per week had more gray matter in their brains nine years after the start of the study than those who didn’t exercise.

There are tests that doctors administer to help determine if there are signs for early Alzheimer’s disease. As your question indicated that you do not have Alzheimer’s disease, I assume your test was negative. For those who are reading this and are concerned, I suggest asking your doctor about administering tests for Alzheimer’s disease. There is no one definitive test to arrive at the diagnosis, but your doctor can combine X-rays and other medical tests with written exams to arrive at a conclusion.

In evaluating memory loss, it is always important to determine if there is underlying depression, which can often mimic this process. A review of your medications and any alcohol use is important, as these can precipitate memory loss.

It is important to consult a doctor when memory loss is frequent enough to become a concern to family members.

In summary, memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging. If you are having mild age-related memory loss which does not interfere with your quality of life but is merely annoying, then try the six tips I suggested to improve your memory.

The three most important things that I recommend: Keep in shape by exercising (walking), get organized and exercise your brain.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.

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