Memory Loss

String around fingerDear Chris,

My mom just turned 91 and really is in great shape for her age. The one thing she finds most frustrating is memory loss. Sometimes she just can’t remember something that used to come so easily. Obviously it comes with age but is there something she can do to assist with this, maybe exercises for the brain? What are your thoughts?

Johnny, Toronto

Dear Johnny,

As you have noted, some memory loss is expected as we get older. Studies have shown, though, that a large part of forgetfulness is really only the result of an accumulation of things to remember. Let’s face it. Your mom has had to remember a lot of things over her 91 years. However, you may be concerned that it’s more than just absent-mindedness, that it might be early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada offers some good advice to help determine if memory loss is simply forgetfulness or something more serious. They suggest that if memory loss affects someone’s day-to-day functions and is coupled with lack of judgment and reasoning, or changes in communication abilities, they should see their doctor to determine the cause of the symptoms. Regardless of the cause of the memory loss, being aware of it can itself be stressful and operating under that stress will make a person even more forgetful and absent-minded.

There are some practical things your mom can do to help her memory loss. One of the best things to do is to reduce stress. Does your mom take time out of her day just for herself? A common misconception is that older people who are no longer in the workforce are idle. The truth is that many say they’ve never been busier. While that can be a good thing, no one should be so busy that they don’t take time out to relax. There are many ways to relax, from formal techniques to recreation and leisure activities.

Besides relaxation, one of the best ways to reduce stress is through exercise. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to have a positive cognitive effect as well as a physical one. A recent study revealed that regular exercise can reduce brain tissue loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Another study published last year showed that older women who walked two to three hours a week performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those who walked less than an hour. In yet another 2004 study involving 60 unfit adults, half participated in a walking programme, while the other half did only stretching and toning. By the end of the study, those in the walking programme had much better short-term memory and other cognitive functions than those in the other group.

Memory aids are also a good thing to have. My father used to carry a small notepad with him. As a kid, I found it amusing. But now I understand why he did it. There is just so much to remember, it seems. Your mom is probably at an age where she has more appointments than someone your age and having to remember those things can crowd an already busy mind. Just make sure that if she uses a notepad, she writes the date beside each entry, otherwise she won’t know if her doctor’s appointment is up and coming or came and went! Maybe her son could buy her a pocket day planner for Christmas!

Your mother will remember things even better if she gets into the habit of saying things out loud a few times before she writes them down. That way she isn’t just relying on the notepad, and has a pretty good back-up in case she misplaces it.

If you want to learn more about memory loss as we age, check out Memory Loss With Aging: What’s Normal, What’s Not”.

To your mom’s health

Chris


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