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Signs You Have Memory Loss, Say Experts

Facts about memory loss and what to do about it, according to experts.

It's not uncommon to be mildly forgetful here and there as we age, like misplacing your car keys or forgetting to pick up an item or two from the store. But when it disrupts your daily routine, it's time to look closely into the issue. The National Institute on Aging states, "It's normal to forget things once in a while as we age, but serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving, using the phone, and finding your way home." Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explain what the signs of memory loss are and how we can help prevent it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID


How Does Memory Loss Happen?

Brain impulses, thinking process

Dr. Allison Reiss, Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU Long Island School of Medicine and Head, Inflammation Laboratory, Biomedical Research Institute, NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island and a physician/scientist on the Alzheimer's Foundation of America's  Medical, Scientific and Memory Screening Advisory Board says, "Memory loss is a complex process, but overall it is the result of loss of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Our memory depends on networks of nerve cells in specific regions of the brain making and maintaining connections. The ability to form memories requires healthy nerve cells supported by surrounding cells with good blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery. When nerve cells die from many possible causes (Alzheimer's disease or other neurodegenerative disorders, toxins, vascular blockage or bleeding), memory begins to fail. Our brains are very flexible and resilient and able to compensate up to a point, but when a substantial number of nerve cells die, memory loss becomes significant and affects our everyday functioning."  


Signs of Memory Loss

Senior woman shocked, with open mouth looking at her husband cooking.

According to Dr. Reiss, "Memory loss may be gradual and subtle at first and so it is difficult to know when it has progressed to a serious problem. Here are some clues: You forget something fundamental and important that would ordinarily be easy or obvious such as how to cook a recipe you have used over and over or how to sew or perform to put gas in your car. You can't remember the name of someone close to you. You ask the same question again and again and forget you asked it. You become disoriented in your own neighborhood. You don't know whether you ate lunch or whether you took your medications and this happens frequently. You cannot handle finances and bill paying that you always found easy."

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How to Tell if the Memory Loss is a Normal Part of Aging or the Beginning Stages of Dementia

Concerned aged mother and adult daughter sit on couch having serious conversation

"This is hard to do, but one way to tell is to get feedback from people who know you well," Dr. Reiss says. "Take it seriously if they tell you that they have noticed a change in you and are concerned. It is also helpful to see your primary care physician who may do a screening test or refer you for one." 

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How Can We Help Prevent Memory Loss?

woman running in fall

Dr. Reiss states, "Our brains live and thrive within our bodies and so keeping our bodies healthy is the first step to making sure our brains are able to function well. The need for nutrients and oxygen means that we want good blood flow and so heart health is vital to brain health and good memory. This means a varied and nutritious diet, regular aerobic exercise, control of blood pressure and blood sugar and avoiding tobacco products. It is best to get vitamins and minerals from whole foods rather than supplements, but sometimes it is difficult to get specific vitamins from food or (in the case of vitamin D) sunlight. I sometimes recommend taking vitamin D, especially in winter months when sun exposure may be inadequate. Social interaction and lifelong learning are very good for the memory and addressing problems with depression or sadness is key. Sleeping well and getting enough hours of sleep are important. Get outdoors every day if possible and enjoy time surrounded by nature. Manage stress and anxiety and set aside time for relaxation. Seek help as needed."

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Testing Should Vary Depending on the Person

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Dr. Afra Janarious, MD, a practicing neurologist in Orlando, Florida. Board certified in neurology, also board certified in neuromuscular medicine explains, "The higher the education level, the less obvious these signs may appear. For example, a neurosurgeon or rocket scientist may score perfectly on simple memory testing despite having reduced cognitive ability from their baseline. For these highly educated people, very detailed neuropsychological testing is often required to quantify the true degree of cognitive dysfunction." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather