Memory loss (amnesia) is an inevitable part of the aging process. As we grow older it becomes more noticeable that we forget people’s names or where we have put our bags, as well as appointments and events. Most of these memory lapses are just a normal part of the aging process, but sometimes they can be an indication of a developing memory problem. It is important to recognize the symptoms for memory related illnesses, and understand how they can treated. Many instances of cognitive memory loss which have an organic cause can be treated, if detected and recognized early, helping the patient lead a fuller life.
The brain has over 100 billion nerve cells called neurons, and these cells carry all the information and memories to and from the brain and the rest of the body in split seconds. When neurons have to communicate or pass on information, they do so using the connections in the brain called synapses. Over time, the synapses within the brain begin to weaken which affects how easily and quickly it is to retrieve memories. Another cause of memory loss occurs when the white matter which links different parts of the brain begins to die off, as the blood supply to the brain has diminished, again usually due to old age. Forgetfulness also occurs when the memory is not exercised enough to retrieve information to reconsolidate memories, which is why brain training exercises form a large part of treatment.
Some common triggers for identifying a memory loss problem include:
Normal age related forgetfulness
This is common as you age and includes things like forgetting your glasses, difficulty recalling names or walking into a room and forgetting why you entered. You are normally able to recall and describe episodes of forgetfulness after they occur.
Memory loss can also result due to stress. If you are stressed or very anxious your body releases more of a hormone known as cortisol. It has been shown that excess cortisol can increase memory loss. Anxiety is an intense distraction and as you are distracted you have problems with your memory as your focus is elsewhere. Sleep deprivation also contributes to anxiety and therefore influences your memory.
Memory loss should always be investigated, as sometimes it may be caused by underlying conditions or trauma. Some examples of these are: stroke; head injury; underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism); certain medications you may be taking; vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency; and subarachnoid haemorrhage.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia
This is an intermediate stage between normal age related conditions and more serious dementia. Mild cognitive impairment normally progresses to more serious forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, but if recognized and treated early with medications then the deterioration can be slower and managed more effectively. Symptoms of MCI and dementia include difficulty performing normal day to day activities including paying bills, dressing or doing household chores, unable to recall instances of memory loss, getting lost or disorientated, forgetting words, sentences or repeating phrases, and trouble making choices or decisions.
Identifying the types of memory loss you are experiencing is very important. Types of memory loss include:
If you are experiencing some memory loss or you want to prevent symptoms occurring, there are certain things you can do to help keep your neurons and synapses firing, and help pick up on any more serious memory problems quickly.
Research has shown keeping your memory active can have a significant impact on ensuring you do not suffer the effects of memory loss. Here are our top 5 tips on keeping your memory active:
If your memory problems persist or you have concerns, then consult with a health professional. You can prepare for your consultation by placing all your symptoms through Isabel, which will give you a list of possibilities to discuss with your doctor. It can also be useful to going in with answers to the following questions:
It is also useful to write down and take any questions you would like to ask your doctor. You and your doctor both want to come away from your appointment with as much information as possible, so you can both work towards a diagnosis and treatment plan. Thinking about the questions which you want answered will help ensure you get the best out of your consultation and to help reassure you about your memory loss symptoms. Questions to consider are:
Take a look at the Isabel Symptom Checker now and try entering your symptoms:
Mandy has worked for Isabel Healthcare since 2000. Prior to this, she was a Senior Staff Nurse on the Pediatric Infectious disease ward and high dependency unit at one of London's top hospitals, St Mary’s in Paddington which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Her experience in the healthcare industry for the past 28 years in both the UK and USA means she's a vital resource for our organization. Mandy currently lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona.