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Forgetfulness or More Serious?

By: Jessica McCurdy Crooks - Updated: 30 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
Age-related Forgetfulness Aging And The

Have you lately been more forgetful than normal? Have you chalked it up to the natural process of ageing? To decipher if your forgetfulness is just normal ageing or something more serious, decide if it is disrupting the course of your daily life. Do your bouts of forgetfulness seem to be getting worse? If your answer is yes to both, you will need to seek medication attention. If it doesn't then the ageing process is the culprit and there are steps you can take to improve your memory.

It is important to fully determine if you have a problem with your memory so you should ideally discuss this with your doctor when on a routine visit.

Ageing and The Brain

Like our bodies, our brain also ages physically as we get older. Scientists believe that between age 20 and 90, we will lose between five and ten percent of our brain weight.

The area of the brain that contains cerebrospinal fluids becomes enlarged and the grooves on the brain widens.

Granted there is still much that scientists do not yet know about the effect of ageing on the brain. From data collected there is no doubt that as we grow older so do our brains, but recent research indicates that most mental functions are untouched.

When Forgetfulness is More Than Aging

Short-term memory is not affected by ageing until most persons are in their eighties and nineties. Forgetfulness in the fifties and sixties is generally related to other factors such as stress. It is believed that long-term memory doesn't begin to go until after ninety years for most persons.

The main indicators that forgetfulness results from more than ageing include:

  • Having difficulty learning anything new
  • Difficulty remembering how to do things you previously could
  • Inability to remember with any clarity things that happened the previous day
  • Inability to follow activities that require going step by step, e.g. a recipe
  • Frequently repeating yourself in the same conversation

Common Memory Problems

Other common memory problems that are not age-related will need treatment. Some of these include:
  • Depression - a common occurrence in older persons, especially after a loss of a loved one or other major changes, can trigger depressive episodes. Depression interferes with the capacity to remember. Luckily this can be treated with a combination of therapy and drugs.

  • Medication can affect the brain, diminishing mental capacity while being taken.

  • Alzheimer's - forgetfulness with Alzheimer's disease tends to get worse over time and disrupts your daily life. The rate of Alzheimer's disease increases significantly after age sixty moving from a low of one percent to over forty percent.

  • Dementia - this refers to a group of symptoms that indicate that something is wrong with the brain's normal functions. Some of these can be reversed by treatment.

How to Improve Your Memory

If your forgetfulness is just a matter of the brain ageing there are a number of things you can do to improve your memory.
  • Develop a routine, that is, keep car keys, hats or other frequently used items in the same place
  • Make yourself a list, this is particularly useful if you are going shopping or have a number of chores to do
  • Develop an association game by associating new things with something familiar or even make a nursery rhyme
  • Keep mentally fit by getting involved in recreational activities that use the brain: puzzles, reading, playing chess, and even travelling
  • Being physically fit is important; daily exercise, whether a walk or something more structured is necessary to keep our bodies and brains healthy
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Keep stress to a minimum
So, being forgetful is something we all experience. It normally gets worse with age, but is generally nothing too serious. Thankfully, when older people forget something, they will remember it with time. Case in point, long after a conversation where you could not remember a name it just pops into your head. Remember, if you are more aware of your absentmindedness than others are, then it's an indication that it is just that…forgetfulness.

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