weekly blog--one for the ages
Ok. It took a few days for Senators Tom Cotton (age 40, R-Ark.) and David Perdue (age 68, R-Ga.) to remember what the President said at a meeting on immigration last week. Let’s cut them a little slack; everybody over a certain age can have what’s called a “Senior Moment” where the car keys go missing, where one can’t retrieve a once-familiar name, or stride into a room with purpose and then forget why.
It's common to occasionally not recall an event or a conversation, or be slow coming up with a word you want to say. However, if you consistently have no memory of events, even when others give you clues, or if a previously familiar word means nothing to you, especially if that occurs repeatedly, then it might be time to see a doctor.
Much of the time what people experience as a memory problem really boils down to a not-paying-attention issue. A memory is made up of a lot of different pieces stored in different parts of the brain. When you shut a door, for instance, your brain registers the feeling of your push on the door, the sound of the slam, an image of what room you were in, what you did next. When you're paying attention to all those things, even on a subliminal level, these pieces help you remember that you shut the door. When you're not, you may not retrieve that memory.
One of the main causes of the not-paying-attention issue is stress. When you’re stressed, you’re not as able to focus on what you’re doing. If you’re not attending to an experience, such as putting your keys down on a table, you’ll never get the information you need into memory storage.
A few more distractions to consider…People who are sleep-deprived don’t remember things as well as people who are well-rested. Experiments have shown that people who sleep after learning new information remember more eight or even 24 hours later than those who don’t. People who are depressed often look very much like people who have dementia in terms of memory loss. However, their memory loss is not of the progressive nature that occurs in people with dementia. When the underlying depression is treated, their memory returns.
Finally, many medications that people take for chronic health conditions can interfere with their memory. These often interact in ways that cause people to feel depressed, sleepy and anxious. The problem of “polypharmacy” (taking many medications, some of which interact badly), is also a serious one that affects millions of older adults who see multiple medical professionals.
Alas, one study suggests that noticing memory lapses is actually a good thing. Research shows that people with dementia tend to lose awareness that their memory is going two to three years before the condition develops. So people who notice their little slips can be safe in the knowledge that any significant mental decline is years off, and may not develop at all.