Memory loss could be defined as an unusual forgetfulness: Problems remembering new ideas or facts, or difficulty remembering past events
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Our brain uses different parts of the brain to manage different types of memory. The two main types of memory are short-term memory and long term memory. It is possible to have alterations or memory loss in both the previously mentioned types of memory, but we'll focus on Declarative Long-Term Memory.
- Short-term Memory retains a limited amount of information over a short period of time, giving our bodies the time it needs to perceive and analyze external information.
- Long-term Memory stored a large amount of complex information over a long period of time. Long-term memory is what most people think of as "memory". However, even within the distinction of long-term memory, there is a further sub-classification: Non-Declarative or Implicit Memory (riding a bike, driving), and Declarative or Explicit Memory, which uses personal experiences to understand the world (a family member's name, where you left your keys, who is the Queen of England, what happened 5 months or 5 years ago).
What is memory loss and memory loss symptoms
When you forget the name of something or what happened on a given day, you're not actually seeing the effects of a "lost" memory, but rather that the brain can't find the right "path" to get to the memory. "Pathological" forgetfulness is called amnesia. some symptoms of memory loss may be:
- Frequently losing personal objects.
- Trouble finding the right words.
- Asking the same questions in a conversation, or telling the same story multiple times.
- Not remembering if you've done something, like taking medicine, for example.
- Disorientation or getting lost in familiar places.
- Forgetting which year or day of the week it is.
- Difficulty remembering appointments or events.
- Problems following instructions or making decisions.
Types of memory loss: Temporary and Permanent
Memory loss can be either temporaty or permanent.
- Temporary memory loss is a loss of information that, after a period time with memory loss, returns to normal. For example, if you are unable to remember an actor's name in the afternoon, and then remember it later that night, or if you take medication that causes "blackouts", you would be suffering from temporary memory loss.
- Permanent memory loss, would be when you lose memory that you are unable to recover. If you're not able to remember where, even after being reminded, you left your house keys, you would be experiencing permanent memory loss.
Causes of memory loss: Aging and medical and emotional problems
There are a number of different factors that can cause involuntary memory loss in both adults and children.
- Memory loss due to health problems is, in many cases, treatable: The secondary effects of some medications and a poor diet with a lack of B6, B9, and B12 vitamins may cause temporary memory loss, as well as alcohol abuse, thyriod, kidney, and liver problems, lack of oxygen to the brain (like stroke), brain injury, cancer treatments (chemotherapy or radiotherapy), tumors or brain infections, emotional problems (like depression), and anxiety (like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
- Memory loss due to stress, anxiety, or other emotional problems: Aside from stress, anxiety and some intense emotions, like anger or rage, can cause memory loss. If you have a car accident in the afternoon, the stress of the accident may cause you to forget what you did that morning. However, it seems that these memory lapses are cause by focusing all of your attention to potentially dangerous threats. You would be able to remember what caused these intense feelings, but wouldn't be able to identify anything besides the accident.
- Memory loss due to age and normal aging: While memory loss and memory problems don't only affect older adults, it is the population group that is most affects. Over time, a person's ability to learn and the quality of memories can deteriorate, without the presence of any pathology. However, when these problems become more pronounces than before, it may be a case of Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia in severe cases.
- Memory loss due to emotional problems in older adults: It is common for older adults to feel alone after losing a loved one or leaving their job. With these kinds of significant life changes, it is normal that a portion of seniors suffer emotional disorders like depression. Seniors with depression may have more memory lapses, which may be confused with symptoms of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. Depression can cause serious memory problems in both adults and children, but it is especially important for seniors to have a differential diagnosis to differentiate the symptoms of Alzheimer's. While memory problems in people with depression may not be as apparent as with other pathologies, it's important to treat the emotional problems as soon a possible.
- Memory loss due to Mild Cognitive Impairment: Mild cognitive impairment is a disorder that causes memory loss, but doesn't keep the patient from carrying out their daily activities. Some studies show that Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may be an early indicator of types dementia like Alzheimer's. However, it's important to note that not all MCI cases will lead to Alzheimer's disease.
- Memory loss due to dementia is one of the biggest problems that affects older adults, even though it is not a direct consequence of aging. Dementia is the (generally chronic) appearance of cognitive problems like memory, speech, and behavioral problems. There are different types of dementia, but Alzheimer's Disease is the most common.
- Memory loss caused by Alzheimer's Disease: A type of protein called "beta amiloide" accumulated in the neurons, forming senile plaques, which could end up in making said neurons useless. This causes a progressive and significant deterioration of memory, problems with orientation (easy to forget what day it is or where you are), with calculation, and, in general, when doing daily tasks. The severity of this disease varies depending on the state that the patient is in. In a mind phase the patient will show significant memory lapses, like getting lost in familiar places, being disconnected from their activities and conversations, may have problems knowing the date, and shows symptoms of depression and hostility. In a moderate phase, these memory lapses are more noticable, and they may forget names or events that happend just a few minutes earlier. They will likely have trouble shopping or cooking, their personal hygeine will suffer, they'll have problems talking, and they will often get lost. External help is necessary in this phase. In advanced Alzheimer's, the patient may have problems eating or understand basic concepts, recognizing family and friends, and may act inappropriately in public. In this phase, the patient will be completely dependent.
Preventing memory loss
The factors that have been shown to be most efficient in preventing or slowing the advancement of Alzheimer's or other memory problems are: sleep, a healthy, balanced diet, physical exercise, a healthy social life, and some cognitive activities. The brain acts like a muscle, in that the more we use it, the stronger it will be. However, if you don't give your brain the nutrients, exercise that it needs, and you don't allow it to use social and cognitive skills, it is likely to atrophy and suffer damage. This is why an active, healthy life can be so beneficial for our memory. CogniFit has a wide range of brain games and scientifically validated activities to help keep the brain active and activate cognitive domains. Brain training and using cognitive skills isn't only capable of helping strengthen and improve memory in adults, but it can also help develop intellectual capacities in children and teens.
Cognitive stimulation allows you to stimulate, train, and strengthen the different cognitive abilities, like attention, perception, memory, language, and executive functions. It is these skills that are affected by dementia and other memory loss disorders. When performing activities that require the use of different cognitive abilities, we help the brain strengthen its connections, which makes it more resistant against deterioration. However, effective cognitive stimulation is more than just training randomly. In order for the brain to get the workout it needs, it needs the right workouts designed for the particular cognitive profile of each patient. CognIFit personalizes each activity so that each patient can get the most out of his or her brain training and help reduce or delay cognitive deficiencies.
Other factors, like a good sleep routine and reading frequently help improve memory. Also, stopping any bad habit related to drinking, smoking, and other drugs, may also help memory and general well-being.
When should you get help? Detect and assess memory problems
It is quite normal for people with memory problems to not be conscious of their own problem, which is why they are usually first detected by family members.
People who have a history of anxiety or depression tend to focus on errors and mistakes, which will likely cause them to think too much of their memory lapses and make them think they have a memory condition. As long as these memory lapses aren't habitual and are fairly normal (forgetting the name of a specific person or place that you don't know well, or forgetting where you've left something, etc.), there's no cause for alarm.
However, if the person has problems doing daily tasks or seems confused or disoriented, it's time to see a specialist. You may want to think about writing down certain information, like when you first started seeing these problems, when it got worse, what kinds of things they forget, and how their life is generally affected. The doctor should be able to determine if the person has a significant memory problem, and if they do, what it is. When in doubt, it is always recommended to see a doctor.
It's important to remember that memory loss doesn't necessarily mean that you have a serious memory problem like Alzheimer's Disease. Everyone is forgetful every once in a while, and it's not cause for alarm if it happens every once in a while. Our brain needs to forget information in order to efficiently learn and store new information.
How to treat or improve memory loss
Dementia treatment must encompass a multidisciplinary approach. Depending on the type of dementia, on the phase that it's in, and on the patient's particular characteristics, a neurological, psychiatric, medical, geriatric, psychological, occupational therapy, or other specific therapy may be necessary.
The medical professional treating an Alzheimer's patient will work to find the proper diagnosis and treatment in order to give the best care possible. Aside from traditional treatment, the clinical cognitive stimulation exercises for Alzheimer's patients in the early or mild stages has been shown to help delay the effects of the disease, while other types of treatments are usually necessary for more advanced stages of Alzheimer's. While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, scientists and researchers are working to find a way to maintain cognitive abilities as the disease advances and lessen some of the behavioral effects that it causes.
There are also prevention activities that can help slow the speed at which the disease advances. If you can combine a pharmacological treatment with a balanced diet, physical exercise, socialization, and the proper cognitive stimulation, you will have the opportunity to reduce the problems caused by dementia and Alzheimer's.
What to do if a family member has memory loss?
If you detect possible memory problems in a loved one, try to encourage them to see a specialist who will be able to help them make a diagnosis. Remember that many people that suffer from memory problems aren't conscious of the fact that they have them, so they may be reluctant to see a specialist and get help. In these cases, it's important to have patience and bring the subject up carefully.
Once a medical professional has found a diagnosis, it's important to follow the guidelines that they set for the patient. If the problem is in an early stage, help the person keep their daily routines both at home and with friends. As one of the main problems with Alzheimer's Disease is temporal disorientation, it may be helpful to have clocks and calendars well placed throughout the house. It will likely become more difficult for the person to learn new things, but try to get them used to using an agenda or planner to keep track of their activities and appointments. Those close to the person with Alzheimer's should carefully follow the doctor's guidelines and make sure that they take their medicine and do the suggested activities. A dementia diagnosis can be difficult on both the patient and their loved ones, which is why it's important to provide emotional support and help how you can. If you notice any symptoms that might suggest that the patient is suffering from depression, get in touch with a medical professional as soon as possible.
- Any simple memory lapse doesn't automatically imply that there is a serious memory problem behind it.
- It's important to know the symptoms of Mild Cognitive Deterioration (MCI) and dementias like Alzheimer's in order to detect the symptoms early on. MCI and Alzheimer's are not the only kinds of memory problems, and as such, they may not fit all of the symptoms, but it is still important to seek medical attention if you think that there may be a problem.
- The effects of MCI and dementia may decrease with a healthy diet, physical exercise, good sleep habits, socialization, and cognitive stimulation.