People joke about experiencing “senior moments” – those mental blips when you can’t remember what you were just about to say, or you forget someone’s name. Scientists call it short-term memory loss, and anyone can suffer such lapses – not just older people.
Stress can cause one to miss an appointment or forget to bring an important item on a trip. Sometimes people wonder if these slip-ups portend the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, an organic brain disease. It’s the No. 1 cause of dementia, according to Edie Yau, director of diversity and inclusion for the Northern California and Nevada Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s is also one of the top 10 diseases without a cure, she said.
Yau has scheduled “Maximize Your Memory,” a presentation that covers the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, tips to improve memory and efficient ways to remember things, 6 p.m. May 18 at Michaels at Shoreline, 2960 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. Although the discussion is free, reservations are required by calling Ameriprise Financial Services at 947-9700 by Friday.
It’s primarily geared toward well seniors and anyone concerned about memory loss, Yau said.
Alzheimer’s or forgetfulness?
Trouble remembering names or recent events, depression and apathy can be early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In later stages, symptoms include impaired judgment, disorientation, behavior changes and problems swallowing or walking.
Researchers think plaque – protein deposits on the brain – and twisted protein fibers build up, thus blocking communication between nerve cells.
Doctors can only make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s if patients show more than just memory loss. Alzheimer’s usually causes problems speaking or understanding language, identifying objects, slowed motor skills and impairment in abstract thinking. Patients often have trouble planning or implementing complex tasks.
Most importantly, if it’s Alzheimer’s, the mental struggles will interfere with the activities of daily living and functioning.
“Over time, people lose more and more of their memory, and they are not as aware as they used to be,” said Yau, who earned a master’s degree in gerontology. “The trajectory of the disease is serious.”
She noted that only a small percentage of patients have a genetic form of Alzheimer’s. However, one in eight baby boomers will have Alzheimer’s eventually as they age in place, she said, which causes great concern, because “we have an emerging population of baby boomers that are getting old.”
A surprising number – as many as 50 percent of those over the age of 85 – will have Alzheimer’s.
While it can’t be prevented, Yau said diet, exercise and mental stimulation can decrease the risk of getting it, “but that’s not a guarantee.”
How to remember better
It takes a conscious effort to improve memory, Yau said.
“Remember the things that are important to you by writing them down,” she said – it prevents you from being dependent on your memory alone.
While crossword puzzles and word games help stimulate the brain, Yau suggested other exercises that challenge the mind.
To keep your memory sharp, she recommended, brush your teeth with the opposite hand, memorize license plates or park your car farther away from the office than you usually do and try to remember the spot.
For more information, visit www.alz.org.