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Published on: January 8, 2015
by Megan Ray for Sunrise Senior Living:
Memory loss and cognitive difficulty remain some of the largest health issues seniors face. Because of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, not to mention the effects of the natural aging process on memory, a healthy amount of research continues to be done into memory preservation. While there are a handful of medications that can help treat symptoms of memory loss, caregivers may also benefit from knowing what other treatment options are available for seniors.
How much memory loss is normal?
One important thing to keep in mind is that nobody has a perfect memory. Everyone forgets things from time to time, regardless of age or medical condition. However, in older adults, the line between natural aging and medically caused cognitive impairment can blur, and caregivers should know when memory issues may be a concern.
As the Mayo Clinic noted, what’s referred to as mild cognitive impairment affects more than just memory. Ailments such as Alzheimer’s and dementia can make it harder for seniors to remember things, but these conditions also act on other aspects of cognition. Caregivers should pay attention to a senior’s memory, but also his or her ability to perform similar cognitive-related tasks. Forgetting to mail a letter may simply be a natural memory slip, but if you notice that someone is having difficulty performing tasks he or she previously had no trouble with – cooking, for example – that may be indicative of MCI development.
Other possible warning signs include repeating oneself in conversation, or misplacing items in unconventional locations – such as leaving a TV remote in the refrigerator. Also, pay attention to the senior’s mood. If you find he or she is more prone to irritability or mood shifts, it may be a sign of cognitive impairment.
Medications are available to treat more serious cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, but you may want to consider other options before deciding to seek a prescription.
Rule out other factors
While Alzheimer’s is a significant cause of memory loss in seniors, other things can affect cognitive performance as well. Dr. Mark Hyman wrote on his website that depression, pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, or even deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients, can all cause cognitive decline in seniors. As part of a caregiver’s senior care regimen, you should ensure that none of these factors are at play.
Keep both body and brain active
A recent report from the University of Michigan Health System examined many common treatments of memory loss to determine which remedies were most effective. The study found activity was one factor that consistently provided positive low-level benefit to treating MCI. Regular aerobic exercise, in conjunction with a routine of brain-stimulating exercises such as puzzles, brain-teasers and other similar activities, could be beneficial to slowing the progression of cognitive impairment.
Stave off stroke
In some cases, memory loss can be linked to another senior health risk – stroke. The study noted that the nature of stroke – a blood clot that can prevent the flow of blood to the brain – can directly contribute to MCI. Stroke prevention is already an important part of elder care, but with knowledge that it can contribute to memory-loss issues, it’s especially important that seniors are encouraged to ward off stroke as best they can. Common stroke-prevention methods include smoking cessation, weight loss and lowering blood pressure.
It’s essential that seniors and their family members communicate with doctors if they suspect cognitive issues may be at play. Doctors can help separate natural age-related memory loss from cases of genuine MCI. Additionally, cognitive impairment may come about as a side effect of certain medication schedules, and doctors will want to explore this option as well.
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