A Prescription for Healthy Living

A Prescription for Healthy Living


Understanding Memory Loss

posted by Ranya Elguendy

We all experience random moments of forgetfulness at some point or another in our lives, but for the most part, we laugh it off and go on with our day. But what happens when sporadic episodes become more frequent? Could these lapses in memory be age-related? Possibly. But what if you are relatively young? Could these episodes point to dementia or Alzheimer’s? In this article we will explore the many reasons memory loss occurs in adults. The good news is that the reasons surrounding memory loss do not have to be catastrophic, but can simply be the result of stress, and other such factors.

Chronic Stress

Stress is a common component in our lives that try as we may, cannot be escaped. It is what our body does with stressors that can make them dangerous to our health as well as have a direct impact on our memories. How does this happen? When we are confronted with chronic stressors, our brain produces an increased amount of cortisol, a chemical that feeds our fight or flight response to danger. This increase is normal if we are, let’s say, being chased down by a herd of wild elephants, but if you are constantly in the throes of a stressful situation, you will constantly produce a chemical that should only be used in emergency situations, thus, a person’s system reaches overload proportions. As a result, the brain loses some of its cells, and actually has difficulty when it comes to forming new neurons. This in turn, affects cognitive thinking and the ability to retain newly acquired information.

What Else To Look For? 

What do your sleeping patterns look like? Do you sleep soundly or do you wake up several times a night? Are you getting the same amount of sleep as you have in the past, or do you feel less rested? Sleep deprivation can have a number of negative effects on a person’s health, but in terms of memory, lack of sleep can cause undue stress on the brain because thoughts, memories, and other forms of information are processed and organized during periods of normal sleep. Multitasking during a particularly stressful period of time can also drain a person’s memory bank.

Depression

Depression is a condition that is typically linked to low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects a person’s emotions. Concentration and focus are often also targeted, impairing a person’s ability to properly store new memories. Most people who struggle with depression tend to focus on sad past events, which can contribute to a lack of attention to what is occurring in the present, which in turn makes it more difficult to store short-term memories.

Three groups of people who are especially vulnerable to depression are older adults, caregivers, and people with dementia. When symptoms of depression are treated, memory problems that have been previously mistaken for dementia typically tend to resolve. 

Other signs of depression include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, loss of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyed, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms of depression, speak with your healthcare physician as your memory problems may be directly related to your feelings of depression. Can you drive a car or pay your bills? Although someone who suffers from depression may not feel like performing those tasks, a person with Alzheimer’s cannot perform such simple tasks.

Medications

The drugs we take affect the entire system, and some of them can interfere with the ability of brain cells to communicate with one another. This effect may occur as the result of a contraindication in medications, which is a common problem for older adults who typically take a number of medications on a daily basis.

Always inform your doctor of any medications you currently take. This includes herbal supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medication. A new prescription may be the culprit for your new onset of memory problems. If you experience any troublesome effects from your medication, call your doctor right away, as there may be an alternate that can be prescribed to you. Likewise, even a small tweak in a dosage of a particular medication you have taken for years can result in big effects. Finally, are you taking any drugs that could actually cause memory loss? Statins that are prescribed for high cholesterol, certain sedatives anti-anxiety medication, and medication to address incontinence may all have a certain negative impact on memory.

Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism is the body’s insufficiency of thyroid hormones, which regulates metabolism. Slow metabolism can affect the entire body, including the brain. Cognitive problems are often an early warning sign of thyroid issues. There is a possible connection among women, between Alzheimer’s, hyper and hypothyroidism (this correlation has not been seen in men).

Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include but are not limited to fatigue, weight gain, dry hair and skin, a decrease or loss of libido, irregular periods, and muscle cramps. Memory problems typically occur in tandem with several of these other symptoms, although it is a common initial complaint.

Pregnancy or Menopause

A fluctuation in estrogen levels during pregnancy and menopause can negatively affect other brain chemicals.

Alcohol

Not only can overindulgence in alcohol have damaging effects on the liver and kidneys, but it has been proven that heavy drinking can also cause brain impairment. It appears that the frontal lobe of the brain, which is involved in memory, bears the brunt of the damage. Long-term overindulgence can cause a condition called Korsakoff syndrome, a form of alcohol-induced dementia.

Other signs of alcoholism include excessive sleep, drinking alone, tardiness at work, and drinking alcohol in the morning.

A person’s ability to metabolize alcohol decreases with age. So, two or three beers for a 70-year-old will have a much greater effect than it did when he was 50 years old.

Mixing alcohol with prescription medication can have toxic effects on brain chemistry.

Concussion or Head Injury

Although the brain is protected by the skull, brain tissue is vulnerable to trauma. Traumatic brain injury typically occurs when brain tissue slams into the skull during a fall or sharp blow. The force of impact can cause numerous problems including those related to memory.

Signs of brain injury may include, but are not limited to, numbness, fatigue, headaches, weakness in extremities, dizziness, and slurred speech.

Do you participate in contact sports that may put you at an elevated risk for incurring such trauma?

Have you been involved in a recent car, bicycle, or motorcycle accident? These are among the most common situations in which head injuries commonly result, especially if the person was not wearing a seat belt or helmet.

Aging

Memory lapse does not necessarily signify that there is a problem. Sometimes they are completely normal. Brain function begins to decline as early as a person’s late 20s.

While age-related memory loss is a common occurrence, Alzheimer’s disease is not.

What Else To Look For?

How old are you? The risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after the age of 65. Approximately one of every two individuals over the age of 85 has Alzheimer’s.



  • http://www.psy-ed.com/cogmed.php Anna Kaminsly

    I work at Richmond Hill Psychology Center and these days almost every 40+ client is complaining about memory loss. It looks like in modern society stress is becoming so commonplace that our brain just cannot deal with it and memory goes first :-(
    Memory improvement techniques such as Cogmed can help only temporary, you have to change your lifestyle and priorities until it’s too late…

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