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Some Forms of Memory Loss Are Treatable

As people age, periods of forgetfulness may increase. You may find yourself forgetting where you put your wallet or car keys more frequently. You may meet a neighbor on the street and can’t recall their name.
Everyone – no matter what their age – experiences occasional episodes of forgetfulness. Such episodes may increase when a person is under stress, ill, tired, or suffering from overload. However, “normal” forgetfulness – unlike dementia – is neither progressive nor disabling.
If you or someone you love is experiencing memory issues, the first thing to do is see your doctor. A complete medical evaluation may uncover a treatable underlying cause for the patient’s symptoms. So it is important not to assume that confusion, memory loss and other personality changes inevitably signal dementia. Treatable causes may include:
Adverse drug reactions – We’ve discussed the dangers of being overmedicated before. But in addition to taking too many drugs, which increases the likelihood of an adverse reaction, many drugs, on their own, may have a side effect of memory loss. These include many innocuous medications taken by millions of Americans, such as Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax and Valium. Because seniors are much more likely to be taking multiple medications – the typical 75-year-old takes more than 10 prescription drugs – and the risks for side effects increase. Overmedication is a cause for many misdiagnoses, including dementia. Tell your doctor what medications you’re taking and ask if this could be a cause of your memory loss.
Anxiety/stress – A study from the University of Iowa revealed that having high levels of cortisol – the hormone released when a person is under stress – can lead to memory lapses as we age. You can reduce the stress in your life through meditation, exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep.
Infections can also cause temporary memory loss. One of the most common among seniors is urinary tract infection (UTI). Some other symptoms of UTI include a change in behavior, confusion, a decreased appetite and depression. Once treatment is started, many patients see improvement in these symptoms within a few days.
Depression – Depression and dementia share many symptoms, such as forgetfulness and the inability to focus. The good news is that symptoms are often much improved with counseling, medication and lifestyle changes.
Thyroid disease – When the thyroid gland produces too little or too much thyroid hormone, memory loss and confusion may result. A simple blood test can reveal a thyroid disorder. Most types of thyroid disease are easily treatable.
Malnutrition As we age, our appetites may change for any number of reasons – a loss of a spouse may mean we’re eating alone, our aging taste buds can’t discern differences in flavor, or medications may make foods less tasty. This can result in seniors becoming malnourished, which can create symptoms of mental confusion, uncertainty and slowness. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet helps improve cognitive function, including memory and recall. Vitamin B-12 – which helps with normal nerve function – is an important nutrient in maintaining good brain health.
Dehydration – As we grow older, the mechanism in our brain that tells us we are thirsty sends out a weaker signal, so seniors may drink less water than is needed for good health. Some seniors try to limit fluid intake because of fear of incontinence or they are on a fluid-restricted diet because of a medical condition. Dehydration symptoms, including disorientation and lethargy, can be similar to those of dementia.
Memory loss is not a “natural part of growing older.” Geriatricians now recognize that dementia is part of a disease process. So if you’re experiencing symptoms, the first step is to rule out other, treatable conditions.

Categories: Healthcare

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