How Does Age Affect Memory?
You know that aging comes with its fair share of issues. With time, your mental and physical abilities will decline, and though the change is incredibly annoying, you expect it.
One of the most frustrating and troubling concerns associated with aging is memory loss. One day, you could perfectly recite the periodic table of elements while juggling a list of tasks at work, but now, it seems like you can barely remember what you had for lunch.
Some memory loss is typical as you age, but some memory problems indicate significant impairments. Knowing which category your memory issues fall into helps determine your course of action.
Establishing the Norm
Everyone experiences some change in memory during the aging process. You might have memory issues like:
- Making a bad or regrettable choice
- Forgetting to pay a bill on time
- Getting confused about the day or time
- Having trouble finding the right word to say in a conversation
- Misplacing everyday items like your keys, phone, or the remote
- Forgetting the name of a celebrity or the movie she was in
As you age, you might discover it also takes more time to learn something new. A new piece of software at work would’ve taken no time ten years ago. Now, it takes months. A new phone or app on your phone could seem foreign to you now even though you could have understood it before.
Luckily, these types of memory and learning issues are all perfectly normal and expected as you age. Overall, they are pretty harmless, because other than the occasional embarrassment, they do not significantly impact your life.
Crossing the Line to Abnormal
Noting the fine line between normal and abnormal memory loss is a complicated situation. The task becomes intensified when you try to identify your problems as people usually struggle to see themselves objectively.
Be on the lookout for troubling memory problems like:
- A long string of bad, impulsive, or careless decisions
- The inability to keep up with any of your bills
- Losing track of chunks of time or being confused about the year
- Having more trouble carrying on a conversation
- Permanently losing or throwing away things you need
- Forgetting the names of close friends, coworkers, and family members
As you can see, identifying severe memory issues is complex because the symptoms are not new, they are intensified versions of normal age-related memory loss. The key will be noting the distress or impairment caused by the memory loss.
If the most serious consequence is a $5 late charge for a bill, the situation is not critical. If you at risk of losing your job, home, or meaningful relationships, the situation is dire.
What Are the Possible Causes of Memory Loss?
Many factors contribute to any memory loss you consider to be abnormal. A few examples include:
- Problems with your thyroid, liver, or kidneys
- A concussion
- Poor diet – minerals and vitamins like B12 are essential for memory
- Side effects from new medications
- Tumors, blood clots, and infections
- Addiction and substance use issues from alcohol and other drugs
Check with medical providers for more information about these conditions and what you can do to improve it.
Mental Health Causes
Apart from these physical health causes, mental health can also play a factor in memory problems. Mental health problems can affect memory at any point, but the signs may be more obvious as you age.
Some mental health conditions influence memory including:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Grief from a loss
- High stress
These conditions mostly affect memory problems indirectly.
For example, a person who is very anxious might have many thoughts constantly swirling through their mind. When it comes time to learn something new, they are distracted by their thoughts, which prevents them from committing the information to memory.
More intense symptoms can block out more information making people appear more forgetful.
Here, the solution for memory loss is simple – treat the mental illness. By receiving effective treatment from a team of mental health specialists like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, mental health can improve, and memory will follow.
Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias
When people think about age-related memory loss, they may automatically jump to the conclusion that Alzheimer’s disease is the culprit. Though this is sometimes the case, it is not true all of the time.
In older adults, Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a condition marked by the loss of the ability to think, remember, and reason as well as new behavioral changes. Alzheimer’s can be deadly and is currently a leading cause of death, especially for older people.
Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetics and brain changes that occur over the years. Only a doctor can diagnose the condition by:
- Asking about your overall health, medical issues, and daily activities, and changes to your mood or functioning
- Testing your memory, attention, language, and problem-solving
- Checking your blood and urine to rule out other conditions
- Scanning your brain to observe physical changes.
If you are worried about your life being affected by memory loss with age, check with your doctor to understand possible causes. From there, keep your brain engaged by trying new things, completing puzzles, and spending time with friends. Your brain will thank you.