A couple of articles about memory loss appeared not long ago, which I thought were good enough to clip and save. And I'm (almost) sure that's what I did, but I can't find them. This has been happening a lot lately: losing, or misplacing things like car keys (and even my car). Should I be worried?

If I remember correctly, the two articles dealt with the question of when -- and when not -- to worry about losing your memory. Most of us don't know how to distinguish between what's normal, and what might be a symptom of something serious like Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts over five million people in this country. So, how do you know what's serious and what isn't? I do recall that each article contained a list of five situations that could help determine whether some memory lapses are normal or an indication of something more serious. 

The first article had a list of five situations that were probably not serious.  (Let's see if I can remember what they were.)

No. 1:  If lapses in memory don't interfere with your life in a significant way, it's probably not serious. 

It's common for seniors to have "senior moments," when we lose our train of thought, midway through a sentence, and have to ask, "Um, what was my point?" Or when we head into a room with a specific errand in mind, only to forget what it was when we get there. Forgetting trivial things is normal and caused by an aging brain and other factors, such as trying to do too many things in too short a time.  In the rush to get the shopping done before company arrives for dinner, you may lose your car keys. But if, after finding them, you can also locate your car in the parking lot, you're probably okay.

No. 2:  If "brain training" causes improvement in your memory, it's probably not serious.

This was news to me. What the heck is "brain training?" The author of this list talked about "brain fitness" and products for strengthening brainpower, but then asked, "Do they work?" The answer, if I remember, is that there is no proof that cognitive training can reverse or slow the loss of memory in Alzheimer patients, so if you are helped by it, yours is probably not serious. But no real evidence exists that these techniques can protect a healthy brain, either. So why bother with them? Apparently our brains compensate naturally for memory loss as we get older, but we can help by learning some cognitive techniques. (I don't recall any mention of daily crossword puzzles, so I guess they don't count.)

No. 3:  Taking certain prescription drugs can temporarily affect your memory, so it's probably not serious.

Older Americans are typically taking multiple prescription drugs to combat a variety of age-related medical problems. Many drugs (the full checklist numbers in the dozens) can cause dizziness and short-term memory loss. The problem is compounded if the drugs interact with one another. It is now common practice among geriatricians to consider "fuzzy mindedness" in older patients as caused by these side effects, unless or until another shows up.

No. 4:  If nobody else notices anything's amiss, it's probably not serious.

Are you repeating yourself? Telling the same story over and over is common among older folks, so you may find yourself asking, "Have I told you this before?" But that, in itself, is a good sign. It means that you are still lucid enough to wonder about it. The point was made that family members and close friends can often spot serious memory problems sooner than the professionals. So, if relatives and confidantes are not harassing you about missed appointments, lost clothing or forgotten phone messages, and if you can still get dinner on the table, play bridge, or read 500-page novels, chances are you don't need to worry.

No. 5:  If you're sleep-deprived or stressed out when memory lapses occur, it's probably not serious.

In today's fast-paced world, we all try to do too much. There's a modern word for it: "multitasking." Older brains are simply not able to cope as well under stress, which is not the same as being demented. Worried about the economy? (Who isn't?) Worry causes stress, which in turn can cause sleeplessness. It's a vicious circle, and short-term memory loss can occur as a result. People with early dementia, on the other hand, tend to forget things even when they are sleeping well and are not under stress. If that doesn't describe your situation, that's one less thing to worry about.

Did I mention that there was a second article called "Five Signs It Could Be Serious?"  I'll try to remember what that was about for the next installment (Part 2).

About the Author

EE Smith

E. E. Smith is a playwright and book author. Her new series of murder mysteries debuted in 2013. The first is titled Death by Misadventure. 

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