About Memory Loss
As we age, disease related memory loss becomes increasingly frequent. At age 60, the chance of having abnormal memory loss is about 1 in 100. Our chances increase steadily, until at 85 our chance is about 1 in 2. So, understanding memory loss, and how to best protect ourselves from its devastating effects, is critical to maintaining our quality of life.
What is memory?
Memory is not a single brain process. Memory is a term used to describe a complex set of brain systems that all have a similar function — to encode, store, and/or retrieve information.
What causes memory loss?
Memory loss can arise from a variety of sources such as: hormone and/or vitamin imbalance, psychological states such as depression, trauma such as strokes, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, among others.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is the term used to describe a syndrome characterized by increasing impairment of brain functioning. There are several different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in people aged 65 and older. In the early stages, AD patients experience memory impairment, lapses of judgment, and subtle personality changes. Over time, memory and language problems get worse and AD patients have more difficulty doing ordinary activities like balancing a checkbook, finding their way around in unfamiliar places, and maintaining social relationships. Nearly all brain functions are eventually affected.
What are the risk factors for memory loss?
The risk of dementia increases as we age. Although each type of dementia has its own risk factors, there are several factors that are related to most dementias.
Risk factors include:
- Over the age of 65
- A family history of dementia (if the onset of symptoms was before age 65, the risk can be as high as 1 in 2)
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Smoking or heavy alcohol use
- High Cholesterol
What are the warning signs for memory loss?
During the early stages of dementia people suffer from impairments that are so mild that few people will notice. As the disease advances symptoms become more apparent.
Warning signs of dementia:
- Difficulty finding words
- Forgetting names, phone numbers
- Forgetting conversations and details of recent events
- Losing items
- Subtle personality changes
It is important to note that most people in the early stages of dementia will not experience all the above symptoms and will often notice little if any cognitive changes. It is only when dementia hits the later stages that the symptoms become readily noticeable. It is therefore important to have a professional monitor your memory as you age.
Isn’t dementia a normal part of aging?
No. Dementia is a disease, and it should be treated. Just like cancer, dementia is more prevalent as we age, and we should try to identify and treat it regardless of the age of the patient.
How do you treat memory loss?
Some sources of memory loss are relatively easily treated, such as those associated with vitamin or hormone deficiencies. Others are more difficult to treat, such as Alzheimer’s disease. In almost all cases, early detection of memory loss provides profound treatment advantages.
Since 1996 many new drugs have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Several of these drugs work by slowing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter). These drugs all can temporarily improve or stabilize memory and many studies have shown that they help to slow the decline in mental functions in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Namenda is a drug used to treat Alzheimer’s disease that works by regulating glutamate, another neurotransmitter that is disrupted in Alzheimer’s Disease, and protecting brain cells (neurons) that are lost during Alzheimer’s Disease. Combining Namenda with drugs that promote acetylcholine offers better results than any single drug. Although none of these drugs can stop or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s Disease, research shows that the earlier patients with Alzheimer’s Disease begin taking these medications, the longer they preserve their mental abilities.
How can MARS Memory Check-ups help?
Because the drugs that treat dementia slow the progression of the disease, early detection and treatment significantly extends the patient’s high quality of life. One can imagine dementia as a car racing to a finish line and treatment as a set of imperfect brakes that can slow but not stop the car. If you apply the breaks late, you will reach the finish-line fast. If, however, you apply the breaks at the very start of the race, you will slow the car down significantly and may not reach the finish line in your lifetime. So, early detection is the key to maintaining your quality of life.
What can I do if a family member or friend has memory loss?
If you are concerned that a friend or loved one may be experiencing memory loss, don’t be afraid to speak to them. It may be the most important thing you can do, as often people fail to take such a step and this usually results in memory disorders going undiagnosed until the individual is experiencing severe dementia. Instead, speak to them in private and express your concerns in a loving and non-judgmental manner.
Education is also critical. Many people over 55 mistakenly believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging and that nothing can be done to stop it. Help to dispel these common myths. Memory loss is not normal and it can be treated, especially when detected early.
The MARS Memory Check-up is specially designed to assess memory in a non-threatening environment. Often spouses or friends come in together to check their memories. Making appointments together often removes the imagined stigma and fear associated with a memory test.