Each year as you grow older remembering little things becomes a bit more difficult. You notice that you tend to forget names and important dates. You’re slower to recall favorite memories from the past. And it seems like you are constantly searching for important items, such as car keys or eyeglasses, because you have lost or misplaced them. Why is this happening and should you be worried?
As you read below know that Village Green is not only here to help you understand memory issues that may have or may arise for you or your loved-one in the future, but we also have an incredible amount of experience on our staff with helping people navigate the complications that arise with memory loss. The discombobulating nature of memory loss does not need to be a concern as it is merely a natural part of the aging process and we are here to help you and your loved-one figure out your specific needs and negotiate the nuances of this new season in life.
And you might wonder if it is normal to forget small things like today’s date? Is that simply due to age related memory loss or is it one of the first symptoms of a larger, more serious problem, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, that affects your memory and cognition. We want to help you learn more about the natural aging process and how it affects your brain can help you determine if recent lapses in memory are cause for concern. And note, while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, there are things you can do to help preserve memory and enhance cognition.
How Does Aging Affect the Brain?
It isn’t noticeable, but from the day you were born your brain has been increasing in size. As your brain grows, communication between neurons – the nerves cells in the brain – is strengthened and enhanced. Efficient communication between neurons is needed to help you learn, develop, and retain facts and skills that are needed to help you function on a daily basis.
Around your early twenties your brain stops growing. No changes occur for a few years, but eventually your brain slowly prepares for aging. This occurs in your 30s to 40s. When you reach your 60s, your brain and your memory ability begins to shift at a faster rate.
How Does the Brain Slowly Lose Cognition and Memory?
Damage to the part of the brain for memory and cognition is the reason why you start to experience difficulty with cognition, executive functioning, and occasional memory fade as you age. Damage to the brain can occur due to decrease in volume that happens as part of the aging process or by a sudden health problem, such as a stroke or lesions.
The natural aging of your brain can mean future health problems that can lead to brain damage. The natural aging decrease of the volume of your brain can hinder or slow down blood flow to the brain. If blood flow is decreased, the brain can become damaged and you experience a loss of cognition and memory.
What Happens to Our Memory as We Age?
Decline in cognition and loss of memory is different for every person because it largely depends upon where the damage occurs. For example, damage to the frontal cortex can cause you to experience problems speaking, reasoning and judgement, and ability to regulate emotions. On the other hand, damage to the temporal lobe can cause behavioral problems, difficulty understanding and processing words, and gradual memory fade.
There are three types of memories: semantic memory, procedural memory, and episodic memory. All of these memories experience change as a result of the natural aging process or because of an injury or damage caused by a health problem.
When you recall a specific fact or concept that isn’t related to an actual event or experience, you are using your semantic memory. Some examples of semantic memory include knowing what a clock is for, the purpose of a shower or sink, and knowing the definition and meaning of words and languages.
Unless there is a major injury that occurs to the brain, semantic memory usually stays the same as you age. In fact, semantic memory can be enhanced or improved as you age just by doing something as simple as engaging in frequent intellectual stimulation or exercising regularly.
Procedural memory refers to your ability to recall how to do something specific. Examples of procedural memory include how to wash your hair, how to tell time, or how to write a letter.
Procedural memory, like semantic memory, usually stays the same as you age. In fact, with exercise and increased stimulation, you can actually acquire new skills and learn new things even as you get older.
The memories that can be used to answer questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” are classified as episodic memory. The ability to retain and retrieve these memories declines as you get older.
Some examples of episodic memory include remembering why you went to the store, where you parked your car, and who you were supposed to meet for dinner.
Other Memories Impacted by Age
Other brain functions and memories that are impacted by the changes in the brain as you age include long-term memory, the ability to process information, the ability to learn something new, ability to shift between tasks, and the ability to multitask. These types of memories and brain function will decline slowly over time.
How Can You Recognize Memory Loss?
Memory loss tends to go unrecognized in the early stages because we believe that age related memory loss is normal and happens to everyone. And it does. However, you’ll notice that it will become a problem when you have difficulty engaging in essential daily tasks.
This is the biggest indicator that determines if memory loss is normal, whether or not it interferes with your daily life. The occasional memory fade that involves forgetting where you placed your car keys in the house or forgetting to pick up an item from the store are usually part of the natural aging process. These problems are very subtle and don’t cause major interruptions to your day-to-day life.
Some indicators that memory loss may not be caused by normal aging include:
- Inability to learn new tasks – learning a new task may be difficult, but if you find yourself completely unable to use a new appliance or unable to make adjustments to your daily route to work it could be a sign of a bigger problem
- Unable to recall names of friends and family
- Unable to recall specific dates or important events
- Unable to complete or perform everyday tasks such as preparing a meal, balancing a checkbook, paying bills
- Unsafe situations can arise due to the loss of memory – leaving the stove on after cooking, forgetting that you put something in the oven, or taking rides from strangers
When memory loss in elderly people starts to impact daily functioning, it is important to seek the help of a health care professional who can properly assess and diagnose the situation.
What is a Safe Environment for Seniors with Memory Loss?
Creating a safe environment for your loved one with memory loss can be difficult. On one hand you want to make sure they are safe and out of harm’s way, but at the same time you don’t want to take away their independence. Finding a retirement community that can easily adapt and change to your loved one’s growing special needs is important and that is exactly what you get at Village Green.
Village Green offers a wide variety of amenities and services that not only keep seniors with memory loss safe, but also enhance and improve their lives. All our residents have access to nursing and care staff who can help with medical issues and who provide non-intrusive daily check-ins. All meals and snacks are provided which allows your loved one to follow a healthy diet while eliminating common safety problems that can occur while cooking.
For residents who may need additional help with daily tasks, we have a number of additional, yet optional, services that help with things such as bathing, dressing, or meal reminders.
Our staff works closely with you to determine exactly what services and amenities are needed to ensure your loved one is safe, but keep them as independent as possible. To accommodate ever-changing nature of memory loss, we offer a majority of our services on an as-needed basis. This allows you to customize your loved one’s experience so their unique needs are being met.
Our residents’ emotional and intellectual well-being is just as important as their overall health. All residents have access to beautiful gardens, walking paths, and daily activities that encourage socialization and intellectual stimulation.
Visit today to see why so many people trust Village Green to provide a safe, nurturing, comfortable environment for their loved one who is experiencing memory loss.
(For More In Depth Research take a look at one of our sources at the National Institute of Aging.)