It seems like one of the biggest issues regarding the health of older adults is about memory loss. Decades of research have been done in this area and this has been a concern for many older adults and their families. Our memories give us the ability to recall, store, and retain experiences and knowledge. Many things change as we age, and it is good to be aware of normal and abnormal changes in memory.
When we talk about memory, we are talking about immediate memory like when someone tells you a phone number and you dial it right afterwards. There is short-term memory which has to do with recalling something that happened recently (like what you may have had for breakfast this morning). Lastly, we have long-term memory which is our deepest, intuitive memory having to do with the recognition of people or experiences (recognizing our children or childhood friends) and our ability to recall various skills we’ve learned (such as driving or finding our way home from a route we’ve often taken).
Our long-term memory tends to stay relatively stable with slight declines as we age. You may forget acquaintances’ names or not recall things that you want to purchase from the grocery store, and these can be considered as normal changes in memory. If you’re forgetting things that are interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks, then that may be seen more as abnormal changes. Conversely, it is abnormal when people start to incorrectly “remember” events that may or may not have happened. If an older adult is repeatedly forgetting to turn off the stove or has trouble finding their way home from a route they take regularly, then there is cause for concern as this interferes with their daily lives.
Please know that an individual may experience memory loss because they’re not exercising their brain, so here are some recommended tips with the help of the Mayo Clinic to stimulate that functioning:
- Exercise daily even if it’s for 10 minutes a day;
- Stay mentally active with crossword puzzles, Sudoku, playing bridge, playing games on the computer or doing something mentally engaging that you enjoy;
- Socialize regularly;
- Organize your things and declutter to help eliminate distractions;
- Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day;
- Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and try to minimize or eliminate alcohol that can lead to confusion and memory loss;
- Manage any chronic conditions.
Serious memory problems may be a result of dementia, pharmaceutical medications or physical or mental health problems. This is something that needs to be investigated by a medical practitioner. Keep your brain active and know that it’s not too late to make necessary changes in your lifestyle.