Memory Loss: When it’s Normal and when it’s Serious
A person walks into a room and then asks themselves, “Why did I come in here?” Such an instance is a common episode of memory loss which happens to most people. Forgetting where one has placed their keys, (usually when already running late for work), wondering where the remote has gone, or frantically searching for the cell phone is a part of living and usually not one that gives us much pause. But where is the boundary between “normal” forgetfulness and lapses in memory that are cause for concern? Are only certain people affected by lapses in memory? Is age, the go to scape-goat of society, really the only contributing factor?
Causes of Normal Memory Loss
As It happens, not only are there different types of different memory loss, there are different causes. According to WedMD, there are multiple causes of memory loss including medications, lack of sleep and poor diet. Memory loss relating to medications is particularly noticeable in people over the age of 65 as 90% of this population takes at least one medication. Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Research Chair of the Montreal Geriatric University Institute found that 18% of seniors note experiencing memory loss which may be the result of the long-term use of many medications.
Many of these medications that seniors take are prescription medications that can cause memory loss. For example, statin drugs are used to reduce* cholesterol levels. However, cholesterol is a substance needed by the brain to form the physiological foundation of memory – connections between nerve cells. Reduced* levels of cholesterol thus may negatively impact memory. Another class of drugs, antiseizure meds, is used not only to treat* seizures, but they are also prescribed for nerve pain and some mood disorders. These drugs reduce* the signals of the central nervous system. These signals are needed for the use of memory, and their reduction* can result in memory loss.
Another common factor is a lack of sleep. WebMD reports that sleep deprivation causes problems such as motor skill impairment and cloudy thinking also known as brain fog. They further report that there are 3 stages of memory creation: acquisition (the learning phase), consolidation (solidifying the memory in the brain) and recall (accessing the memory in the future). Without adequate sleep, the consolidation phrase is compromised, making it hard to learn new things.
A third common cause of a deficient memory is a poor diet, especially one lacking in vitamins B1 and B12. In a world where drive-ins and convenience stores are on every corner, achieving the proper balance of vitamins and nutrients is becoming a more difficult task. Unfortunately, the brain and your memory, can pay the price. Dr. Beatrice Golomb from the University of California San Diego conducted research on 1,000 healthy men in which she gave them memory tests. The study state that males that ate the highest amounts of trans fats scored the worst with those under the age of 45 showing the highest levels of memory deficit.
When may it be the time to see a doctor?
Some memory loss is common and usual, there is no doubt. The brain tends to store what is important for survival in the immediate and long-term capacity. For example, do you happen to recall any of your pre-algebra exams from 8th grade? Probably not. However, there are times when memory loss goes beyond normal forgetfulness and may indicate a larger problem. Strokes, for instance, is the result of a lack of blood reaching the brain due to a blocked or leaking blood vessel. Persons that have a stroke often have problems using their short term memory to make new memories but can remember details from the past.
Dementia occurs when memory consistently fades* over time and increasingly interferes with daily living. Often what is forgotten is activities a person has engaged in many times and is familiar with but they increasingly have trouble remembering as time going on. One commonly recognized form of memory loss is Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that causes people to lose* brain cells. As the disease progresses, many individuals lose* their ability to recognize family members, friends or recall important information about life major events. Not only is this frustrating and embarrassing for people, but it can cause a tremendous emotional strain on family members. Memories are the story lines that hold us together, without them people often feel overwhelmed and alone. Dementia, stroke and other health issues warrant a visit to the doctor for a medical assessment.
Conclusion: Some Forgetfulness Is Normal; Chronic Memory Loss May Not Be
It is important to remember (no pun intended) that while age can be a contributing factor to forgetfulness, it is not the only cause. All ages can be affected by various medications, lack of sleep or a poor nutritional diet – making everyone a prime target for forgetfulness to become more of an issue than normal. Some occasional forgetfulness is normal and not cause for concern. However, when memory loss is chronic and persists over time, a larger problem may be present, and a trip to the doctor is warranted.