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Memory Loss in Seniors

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Loss of memory can affect any person of any age. It can be short-term or persist over the long-term and gets progressively worse over time. Seniors are at a greater risk of memory loss since many of the diseases that contribute to it are mainly seen in the elderly. The human brain stores information as memory. Human possess the ability to consciously or unconsciously recall information of past and learned experiences or sometimes imaginary events. Any defect in this ability is termed as memory loss.

Memory Loss vs Forgetfulness

Every individual have a natural tendency to forget. This is not memory loss. It is simply a matter of the stored information not being important enough or frequently recalled and is not ‘prioritized’ in memory recollection. To some extent there is minor memory loss in the senior years as a result of aging. However, it is more a matter of forgetfulness than complete memory loss. Forgetting facts and events that happened long back or names of people you met long time ago is quite natural. An older person tend to forget other people’s name, places or incidences and spontaneously remember them later. Similar reversible memory loss episodes may be present in every age group.

However, the problem begins when a person permanently forgets vital information like their name, address or an important work. Then memory loss becomes a medical condition called dementia.

Causes of Memory Loss

Typically there are two types of memory loss :

  1. Short-term memory loss where a person cannot recall information of the previous few minutes or hours, and sometimes days.
  2. Long-term where a person is unable to recall events that occurred months or years before.

Aging reduces overall functioning of brain and promotes forgetfulness. Often diseases that appear during old age and cause progressive damage to the brain contribute to the loss of memory. Common old-age diseases that are the root cause of memory loss in seniors include :

Other contributors to memory loss includes :

  • Traumatic head injury.
  • Psychological stress and depression.
  • Encephalitis and meningitis.
  • Some systemic infections or debilitating illness which may not directly involve the brain.
  • Rarely, intake of specific medications may lead to dementia-like conditions.
  • Deficiency of vitamins like vitamin B12, required for healthy neurons and blood cells, could also cause forgetfulness.
  • Chronic alcoholism that interferes with vitamin absorption or complicates the effect of medications may also present memory loss.

Symptoms of Memory Loss

Memory loss typically serves as an initial sign of dementia but there may also be other associated symptoms. The symptoms that are usually progressive that include:

  • Repeating the same question again even after getting the answer.
  • Forgetting names and places of importance.
  • Mixing different facts.
  • Misplacing items of daily use.
  • Not indulging in group discussions or conversations.
  • Getting irritated without any obvious reason.
  • Prolonged dementia may interfere with social and behavioral skills.

Memory deficits present a spectrum of symptoms ranging from mild, moderate to severe.

  • Mild memory loss presents as rare episodes, without any prominent signs.
  • Moderate moderate loss varies from person to person and the effects are limited only to the memory recall abilities of normal personal and social life. It is difficult to assess.
  • Severe memory loss presents the whole spectrum of symptoms with impaired interpersonal skills and a person is unable to perform daily activities.

Treatment of Memory Loss

Apart from routine physical examination, blood tests are done to know whether the condition is reversible or permanent. A questionnaire session is also conducted by doctors to assess the memory recall abilities and other skills. There is no specific treatment for memory loss on its own. The treatment should be directed at the underlying cause. There is some evidence to suggest that people who continue with mental exercises into the senior years are less likely to suffer with as severe memory loss. Therefore many seniors and people who are retired are encouraged to read, do crossword puzzles or soduku and other enjoyable mental tasks on a regular basis.

 


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