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How Normal Is Memory Loss As We Age?

Published on Jun. 07, 2022

puzzle pieces coming out of a silhouette head

Some people experience memory loss as they grow older. But is the memory loss you’re experiencing (or seeing in a loved one) a sign of something more serious, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

In this blog: 

  1. Why Does Memory Loss Occur?
  2. Caring for a Loved One with Memory Problems
  3. How Can You Boost or Maintain Your Memory?
  4. Concerned with Memory Problems?

Why Does Memory Loss Occur?

elderly man looking out the windowIt’s normal to forget things from time to time as you age. You might draw a blank on the name of an acquaintance. Miss the due date for a bill. Or lose track of a thought. While forgetfulness can certainly trip you up, this type of memory loss doesn’t mean you’re destined for dementia.

In addition to aging, memory loss can also occur for other reasons too. These include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Dehydration
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Excessive stress
  • Infection
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Some medications
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid problem
  • Vitamin deficiency

So how do you know when it’s time to ask for help? And is there anything you can to do improve your memory?

Memory problems can be puzzling. In older adults, it’s easy to mistake such problems as part of the everyday memory loss that can occur as we age. Generally, when these slip-ups begin to impact your everyday life – or that of a loved one – it could be a sign that it’s time to talk to your primary care provider or family doctor. 

Talk to your healthcare provider if you or your loved one:

  • Is not able to remember familiar things or people
  • Is increasingly forgetful or has trouble remembering recent events
  • Has trouble doing familiar tasks, such as cooking
  • Gets disoriented driving or walking in places that were formerly very familiar

Caring for a Loved One with Memory Problems

man looking over at a tablet with his elderly mothIf you’re caring for someone with memory problems, use the tips below to help your loved one keep their confidence, independence, and dignity for as long as possible.

  • Be flexible and patient. Help your loved one try to remember what they can.
  • Make it easier for the person to remember new information. For instance, keep new information simple and repeat it often. Break down new activities into small steps.
  • Give verbal cues rather than ask questions. For example, say: “This is Jane, your cousin, who has come to see you.” Don’t say: “This is Jane. Do you remember who she is?”
  • Keep a regular routine. This will help the person feel more secure and make it easier for him or her to remember what usually happens during the day. Too much variety and stimulation can be confusing.
  • Write down important pieces of information. Visual cues can help your loved one remember or stay on track.
  • Learn what to expect. For example, managing irritation may be easier if you understand that your loved one can’t remember how to unload the dishwasher because of the disease. It is not because your loved one doesn’t want to be helpful.
  • Seek help from family and friends. Be honest with others about your loved one’s condition – and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. The more support you have, the more support your loved one has. 

How Can You Boost or Maintain Your Memory?

To keep your memory sharp, it's helpful to understand things that affect memory for better or for worse.

Memory Helpers

Memory Harmers

Exercising regularly and staying fit. Heart health boosts your memory because a healthy heart pumps blood with nutrients and oxygen into the brain. Congestive heart failure and long-term untreated high blood pressure can hurt memory.

Stress. Anxiety and stress can interfere with your ability to remember information, so make time to slow down and relax. Use our free Stress Relief Guide for ideas. 

Activities that challenge your brain. Participate often in tasks that use more brain power such as reading (versus TV), doing math without a calculator, or assembling items (like a new bike) on your own. 

Diabetes, hypothyroidism, depression, and high blood pressure. Keep long-term (chronic) conditions like these under control by keeping routine doctor’s visits and following your provider’s advice. 

Varying your activities. If you don't challenge your brain with different activities, you end up with problems trying to remember certain things. Brain cells that aren't stimulated don't work as well. The old adage about using it or losing it is true when it comes to memory.

Certain medicines. Medicines that may cause memory problems include some heart medicines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and cold remedies. When you begin taking any new medicine or change the dosage, keep an eye on your reactions. Even medicines not known to affect memory may affect yours. Medicine interactions also may affect your memory. Talk with your primary healthcare provider about your concerns.

Memory aids. Using a pocket notebook, cell phone alarm, or voice recorder to remind you of upcoming events can help jog your memory. Making a daily "to-do" list can also help you remember appointments or tasks. If you seem to misplace items like keys or sunglasses, decide on one spot for them and always put them there when you aren't using them.

Watch your alcohol intake. If you regularly drink too much alcohol, it can affect short- and long-term memory, which may not be reversible. Experts recommend that men under age 65 drink no more than 2 drinks a day. Men 65 and older and women of any age should have no more than one drink a day. One drink is about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Hearing and seeing correctly. Wear eyeglasses if you need them and use hearing aids if you’re hearing impaired. These aids help you focus on what's being shown or said to you.


Concerned About Memory Problems?

masked woman talking with a doctorYour primary care provider or family doctor can listen to your concerns and help guide you in the right direction. Medication and other forms of treatment are available to help. And if you do have something more serious – such as early Alzheimer’s disease – you can work alongside an expert physician as well as talk to family members and other loved ones who can help you. 

Likewise, if you think a family member may be struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out and help. Consider attending a doctor’s appointment with them so you can help your loved one make the necessary next steps. Need a primary care provider? Use our Find-a-Doc service below to connect with a primary care doctor near you. 

Find A Doctor

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