Our human quest for survival produces intense fears about any possible threats to our longevity. Every era has its health threatening demons. In the 1980’s the mere mention of Cancer had people shudder and withdraw from those who were diagnosed with any form of this disease. Ignorance and fears led some terrified people to shun cancer patients for fear of contracting this deadly disease. Similarly, the Aids epidemic created panic, prejudice, misinformation and isolation of the afflicted.
Today’s most feared condition is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a progressive fatal neurological brain deterioration that starts with memory loss. If you are privileged to listen to conversations of seniors today, you may hear elders exchange self-deprecating scenarios about their memory gaffes in order to be reassured that their experiences are shared by others and thus are part of the normal aging process.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation describes aging as follows: “Everyone becomes forgetful from time to time: forgetting where you placed the car keys, not remembering to pick up an item at the grocery store, forgetting to return a friend’s phone call. And as we age, most of us become increasingly forgetful. At least half of those over age 65 say that they are more forgetful than they were when they were younger, experiencing “senior moments” about things like where they put things or recalling somebody’s name.” Yet, none of these symptoms is necessarily a preamble to the dreaded AD.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “11 percent of American adults age 65 and older have AD, after age 80, about 32 percent of individuals show signs of the disease.”
“Mind, Mood & Memory” publication of Massachusetts General Hospital concludes, “That means that the majority of older adults who fret about their fading memories are most likely experiencing normal age-associated memory decline and have nothing to worry about.” Their researchers label occasional forgetfulness, memory lapses, temporary forgetfulness that is recalled later, slower ability to acquire new information and greater difficulty in finding the right word “normal age related memory changes” and different from forgetfulness that worsens over time.
For those who are concerned about their memory Dr. Janet Sherman of Massachusetts General Hospital offers some practical tools: “Adopt a routine to make it easier to remember tasks. Learn mnemonic techniques, such as ‘chunking’ together similar information which makes recall easier. Make written notes. Use memory helpers; daily medication containers, calendars, sticky notes, smart-phone to remind you of important tasks. Make “to-do” lists to keep track of errands and keep objects so you can find your car keys and glasses when you need them.” She adds, “Eat a healthy low fat diet, exercise 30 minutes a day five times a week, get enough sleep, avoid smoking, drink no more than two drinks a day and stay mentally and socially active.”
To quell fears about memory lapses:
- Accept that some memory lapses are expected with age.
- Abstain from excessive worry.
- Live healthily and seek medical expertise if your symptoms worsen.