Forgetfulness: Are You Losing Your Mind?
By Dr. Myatt
A patient told me recently that his memory didn’t seem to be as good as it used to be. “I’ll go into the garage and forget what I went to get”. “Do you ever get lost driving to places that you routinely go, like the grocery store?” I asked him. “No, but I just can’t seem to remember people’s names”. “Don’t worry, this is normal forgetfulness “ I assured him. “You don’t have Alzheimer’s disease – you don’t even have senile dementia. Your memory is O.K.” How did I know?
How Memory Works
“Memory” is a general term that refers to at least three separate brain functions. It is independent of education or intelligence.
Sensory memory – sensory experiences cause brain signals that are available for analysis for less than one second. How long does it take you to “decide” to pull your hand off a hot stove if you accidentally touch it? About a millisecond. That is sensory memory.
Short-term memory (primary memory) – is the recollection of a few bits of information for seconds to a minute. If you look up a phone number up and remember it long enough to dial, that is short term memory. Any interruption of thought will displace the information. If you go to the garage to get something and you see something else you need, you may “displace” the first thought. We typically can store no more than seven bits of information for up to one minute in short term memory.
Long-term memory: This is the part of memory that can store information for minutes, hours, days, years – a lifetime. It has been called various names, including “fixed memory” or “permanent memory”. Long-term memory is usually divided into two types:
- Secondary memory (recent memory) is memory that is stored with only a weak to moderate memory trace. This is the memory that allows us to recall what we ate for breakfast or where we went yesterday. Although this type of memory can last from several seconds to several years, weak memories may last only a few seconds to several days. Recent memory re quires a relatively long “search time” to locate. (i.e., “What’s that man’s name that I met two days ago? Or ten seconds ago?)
- Tertiary memory (remote memory) is memory that is so well ingrained that it is a permanent part of memory. Speech would be impossible without the ability to recall words, names of objects, your own name in an instant. This type of memory also allows us to remember remote events such as childhood experiences. Unlike recent long-term memory, remote memory is avail able instantaneously.
Memory and Aging
Some mental functions decline with age, although scientists do not believe that changes are inevitable.
It is unclear whether sensory memory declines, but reflex signals to other parts of the body can decrease. In other words, certain reflex movements may not be as speedy when we’re older. It may take longer to hit the brake pedal when driving, for example.
Secondary long-term memory (recent memory) can decline with age and other factors. Brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, often decline with advancing years. Brain cells themselves may deteriorate with age. Remember, however, that humans use less than 10% of their brain for advanced cognitive thought. Even the loss of brain cells does not necessarily correspond to a decline in mental function.
A teenager may have more brain cells and brain chemicals, but would you want them running the country? Age carries knowledge, wisdom, and experience – independent factors that also influence our ability to think, recall, and reason.
Alzheimer’s, Senile Dementia, or Normal Forgetfulness?
Less than 6% of the over-65 population suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. “Senile dementia”, or non-Alzheimer’s senility, affects a similar number, perhaps more. The two diseases are often difficult to distinguish, especially early-on. Diagnosis is a matter of clinical judgment on the part of the doctor. The only definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a post-mortem examination of the brain, where deterioration of brain cells and brain “scarring” is evident.
When to be Concerned
Normal forgetfulness is certainly a nuisance. In younger people, such temporary lapses are usually of little concern. As we age, we tend to look for “snakes under rocks”. Even normal forgetfulness can become worrisome. But going into a room and forgetting what you went for is not highly suggestive of a serious memory problem. Neither is being introduced to someone and then immediately for getting their name. Here are symptoms of greater concern:
- Memory lapses that occur more frequently and become more severe.
- Depression, anxiety, or paranoia.
- Loss of judgment and discrimination.
- Inability to learn new facts or skills.
- Mood changes: irritability, anger, loss of interest in daily activities.
- Loss of awareness of daily events.
What To Do if You Suspect a Memory Change
First, see your doctor. Many factors can cause mental changes, including illness, lifestyle, and disuse. Your doctor will give you a physical examination to rule out correctable causes of memory loss. Remember, most memory loss is either normal forgetfulness or caused by another illness or lifestyle factor.
Secondly, and simultaneously, begin these simple, positive steps. Simple factors such as B vitamin deficiencies can cause serious mental changes. Don’t let easily correctable memory changes happen to you!
Positive Steps to Improve Memory
- Nutrition: eat a well balanced diet. Lack of nutrients can cause memory changes.
- Supplements: In addition to your “basic supplements” add: Multi-B-Complex: 1 cap, 2 times per day with meals.
- Exercise your Body: Even 15 minutes per day of walking greatly improves circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
- Exercise your Brain: Read, work crossword puzzles, use name associations, pay attention to life!
The herb Ginkgo biloba is specific for age-related memory changes.
Common Causes of Memory Loss
- low thyroid function
- small strokes
- heart attack
- neurological disease (MS., ALS, Parkinson’s)
- “Other”: That is why a physical exam is important!
- Smoking: carbon monoxide is toxic to the brain.
- Alcohol use: alcohol often effects older people more than it does younger ones, due to decreased metabolism and slower liver function.
- Drugs: both prescription and non-prescription medications can have adverse effects on memory.
- Nutritional imbalances: B vitamin deficiencies, lack of antioxidant nutrients (especially vitamin E).
- Metal toxicity: certain metals such as aluminum are known to have adverse effects on the brain.
- Disuse: the mind acts like a “muscle” and “if you don’t use it, you lose it”!
Please visit our webpage on Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s and see our previous article Remembering Reagan, Avoiding Alzheimer’s where you can find more information including suggestions for supplement protocols for these issues.
Posted in Mental Health, Senior Health | No Comments »