From Florida Hospital - Apopka
By Rosemary Laird, MD
I cannot count the number of times I’ve wished my car keys had a homing device attached to them. Or, that I could remember the name of the new neighbor I’ve been introduced to twice already. Or, where I put my “to do” list. But does the fact that I forget these things from time-to- time mean I have to worry about something as serious as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? Probably not.
Actually, occasional memory lapses and breaks in concentration are quite common at all ages. The most common culprit is not paying close enough attention to the information. For example, sending an email and answering a text message while at the same time discussing dinner plans with your spouse. Sound crazy? It may be, but it’s also the way many of us live our lives these days. No wonder we can’t remember what day it is!
Try these 3 simple and effective steps to improve your memory:
Pay attention and slow down—you need about 8 seconds to make a memory
Stop multitasking-focus on the information you want to remember
Get organized-keep lists; put your keys in one spot, etc.
For most of us these senior moments will be nothing more than embarrassing annoyances. As more and more of us are living longer lives, however, it’s important to understand that the most powerful risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age.
At age 85, each of us will have a 50/50 chance of having Alzheimer’s disease. While some argue it makes little sense to worry about an incurable illness, I advise patients to learn all they can about how to protect yourself (and your brain) from this very real threat. Step one is to understand normal aging-related memory changes in and what’s Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s key to understand that senior moments happen to everyone now and then. Alzheimer’s disease is much different. It’s a disease that involves the dysfunction and decline of the brain’s ability to function. Think of it as brain failure much like we talk about heart failure when the heart is damaged from disease.
One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss so it’s understandable that senior moments raise concern. However, in Alzheimer’s more than one cognitive process is altered. For example people may forget the day or month, have trouble with finding words or making change at the store. As the disease progresses, it worsens over time and ultimately affects the ability to function.
Typically, Alzheimer’s symptoms develop slowly and steadily over a number of years. If all your symptoms appear over a few months, it is not likely you have Alzheimer’s, but you could have another form of dementia. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s include being older, female, having diabetes, coronary artery disease and/or sleep apnea.
If you’re concerned, talk with your primary care provider about your symptoms. In some cases he or she will evaluate you. In other cases, they may seek out a consultation with a geriatrician, neurologist, or facility that specializes in memory disorders.
Forgetting recently learned information
Difficulty performing job-related tasks that had been well performed in the past
Loss of initiative
Mood swings that are unusual for someone
Change in personality
Difficulty performing common tasks such as preparing a meal
Forgetting simple words and/or substituting unusual words
Getting lost in familiar surroundings
Poor or decreased judgment
Difficulty with complex tasks
Misplacing items and putting them in unusual locations (i.e. not just forgetting where it is but putting the wallet in the refrigerator and not really thinking it’s strange when it’s found there)
Normal Aging-related memory changes
Forgetting things like names and appointments
Occasionally forgetting why you entered a room
Occasional sad or blue days
Sometimes having trouble finding the right word
Forgetting the day of the week, date, or where you were going
Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time
Temporarily misplacing keys or wallet
Mild personality changes
Feeling weary of work or social obligations
Dr. Rosemary Laird serves as the Executive Medical Director of the Florida Hospital for Seniors program, and treats patients at Centre for Senior Health, a Florida Hospital Medical Group practice.
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