Most people assume as we age we begin to experience memory problems, usually as the result of Alzheimer's disease or some sort of dementia. This is one of the most common myths of aging. Memory loss can have a number of causes that are not related to the process of getting older. These causes include:
Depression - Depression can deplete the chemicals in the hippocampus of the brain, which is where information is stored. Depression can also present with appetite loss, mood swings, and changes in sleep patterns. Speak with your loved one's healthcare professional if you think they are experiencing depression.
Stress - Is your loved one experiencing high levels of stress, perhaps because of diminished abilities? Care receivers can be just as susceptible to stress as caregivers. Relaxation exercises, like deep breathing, could benefit you both.
Poor sleep - Sleep gives our body a chance to repair and re-charge. Inadequate sleep, over a period of time, can greatly diminish cognitive abilities. Does the person in your care have sleep apnea? Are they on medications that cause insomnia? Are you monitoring their intake of caffeine? Again, a discussion with a healthcare professional might be beneficial.
Vitamin B12 deficiency - According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, as much as 10 percent of non-Alzheimer's related memory loss can be attributed to vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is found in meat, fish, and eggs.
Thyroid disease - Too many or too few thyroid hormones can affect memory. A physician can perform a test to see where thyroid levels are at.
Mini-strokes - Mini-strokes can occur without anyone being aware, resulting in minor memory loss. Frequently occurring mini-strokes can cause permanent memory loss. A healthcare professional can help determine if mini-strokes have occurred in the past.
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.