At one time or another, most of us have forgotten where we put our keys, our phone, glasses, or even parked our car. Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in? Sure. Run into an acquaintance and forgotten the person’s name? Yes, and it’s embarrassing.
It doesn’t mean you have dementia or Alzheimer’s. I call memory blips “brain farts.” They become more common as we age because our brains form fewer connections so the memory is not as strong as it once was. Also, the speed at which our brain processes stored facts, figures and names becomes slower. Recall becomes slower. (One trick I have for bringing up a person’s forgotten name is to go through the alphabet. It almost always works.)
Forgetfulness can be a normal part of the aging process, or it could be triggered by these physical conditions:
- insomnia, or lack of sleep (for help in this area read 16 ways to sleep better)
- thyroid condition
- drug interactions
- too much caffeine and/or alcohol
- stress (Read 16 Stress busters)
- vitamin B12 deficiency
- UTIs –urinary tract infections
- dehydration (please remember to drink at least 6 glasses of water every day)
- depression and/or mood disorders
The best way to rule out memory problems is to have a full physical exam including a blood panel. Please make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Sometimes a memory issue can be cleared up by just getting more sleep or by taking a vitamin B complex supplement.
But if you find yourself putting your keys or your phone in strange places like the refrigerator, getting lost in the city you’ve lived in for decades, or forgetting how to scramble your eggs, this could be indicative of a more serious problem.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is the name for an umbrella of brain disorders with the primary symptoms being memory loss, inability to think clearly or to express oneself, difficulty making decisions and solving problems, and trouble controlling emotions. The term dementia usually refers to degenerative conditions of the brain that result from trauma, as in the brain injuries found in athletes, but more commonly it is used to refer to conditions related to a disease.
Dementia is a major symptom of these diseases:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurocognitive disorder and affects almost 6 million Americans. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to nearly triple over the next generation. In the early stage of the disease, people with the disease will find it difficult to remember recent events such as what they had for dinner the night before, or even just a few hours ago. They will most likely be depressed because they can’t manage things as well as they used to. An active person might lose interest in things that used to excite them. And the person might forget names of people near and dear. As the disease progresses, emotional behavior will change, the ability to communicate will be impaired and confusion will take over. Everyday tasks such as bathing will become a challenge. Later, physical changes will occur such as the inability to walk or talk and eventually swallow, which often leads to death.
Frontotemporal dementia often emerges around the age of 60 years, but it can appear in people who are in their 20s. It involves a loss of nerve cells and affects behavior, language and movement.
Dementia with Lewy bodies can resemble those of Alzheimer’s disease, but there may also be sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and an unsteady walking pattern. Lewy bodies are collections of protein that develop inside nerve cells and prevent them from functioning properly.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease represents a number of brain diseases that cause problems throughout the body. They are thought to be triggered by prion proteins. A prion is neither a virus nor a bacterium, but it can cause a disease. Types of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease.” Symptoms include rapid memory, behavior, and movement changes. It is a rare and fatal condition.
CTE–Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease which afflicts the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, such as athletes in contact sports such as football. s
Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that results from a defect on chromosome 4. It can lead to mood changes, abnormal movements, and depression. The person may experience an ongoing decline in thinking and reasoning skills. There could be slurred speech and problems with coordination. It tends to appear between the ages of 30 and 50 years.
Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder. The hallmark signs include trembling, especially tremor in the hands. It can also involve depression and behavioral changes. In the later stages, the individual may have difficulty speaking and sleep disturbances.
Vascular dementia, also known as post-stroke dementia, can appear after a stroke, when there is bleeding or vessel blockage in the brain. It affects a person’s thinking and physical movements. Early symptoms may include an inability to organize, plan, or make decisions.
Although there is no cure yet, there are measures you can take NOW to stave off brain and mental decline. Click here to read 8 Ways to Train Your Brain.
Additionally, here is my list of 10 recommendations for maintaining cognitive function and boosting brain power
- Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking.
- Ginkgo biloba has been proven in hundreds of studies to help blood circulation to the brain, sharpening mental performance, increasing concentration and short-term memory. A well-known study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that supplementation with 40 mg of ginkgo three times a day for one year had a positive effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trail of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia.
- Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
- Eat more blueberries! Their active antioxidants have been shown to protect and restore brain function. One recent study revealed that feeding blueberry extracts to mature mice partially reversed some signs of brain aging.
- Avoid alcohol. People who drink too much alcohol often show shrinkage or atrophy of the cerebral cortex, the seat of memory, learning, reasoning, intelligence, and emotions. Reduced cortical thickness in abstinent alcoholics and association with alcoholic behavior
- Avoid smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels, making less blood, oxygen, and nutrients available to the brain. It also replaces oxygen with carbon monoxide, a chemical that damages brain cells.
- Incorporate a regular exercise program into your daily routine. An easy way to start is by walking 30 minutes a day at least five times a week. Yoga is wonderful for staving off arthritis pain, maintaining flexibility and for relaxation.
- Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship, hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group, or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.
- Sleep well by getting to bed before 11:00 pm, eating your last meal before 8pm, turning off your electronic devices, and eliminating light in your bedroom. Studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you have trouble sleeping consider using a lavender essential oil spray on your pillow or a sachet of lavender inserted into the pillowcase. There are lots of natural sleep aids available at your local health food store, such as melatonin, calcium/magnesium, valerian, hops, etc. Consult with a nutritional consultant about what might work best for you.
For more information on how you can reduce stress and boost your happiness and health, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.