Not All Memory Loss Is a Result of Dementia

a mature man pulls the chicken or turkey out of the oven only to find it burnt and ruined. His little daughter consoles him.

Have you had the experience of meeting a neighbor on the street or in the grocery store and not been able to remember their name? Or run to the grocery store to pick up some items you need and once there, forgotten what you went there for?

People of all ages experience memory loss at times. And lapses in memory may become more frequent as we age. But not all memory loss is a time for panic. A study from Notre Dame University discovered that the simple act of passing through a doorway can trigger forgetfulness. “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away,” explains Gabriel Radvansky, who led the study.

If you are experiencing memory issues, the first thing to do is see your doctor. A complete medical evaluation may uncover an underlying cause for the symptoms you’re having – a cause that may be treatable. Treatable causes include:

Drug side effects and interactions – Older Americans, on average, take more drugs that their younger counterparts. the average 75-year-old takes more than 10 prescription drugs. The more drugs one takes, the greater the changes for adverse reactions – which can include memory loss – something we discussed in this blog post. Additionally, many drugs, on their own, may have a side effect of memory loss. This includes many innocuous medications taken by millions of Americans, such as Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax and Valium. Tell your doctor what medications you’re taking and ask if this could be a cause of your memory loss.

Anxiety/stress – A study from the University of Iowa revealed that having high levels of cortisol – the hormone released when a person is under stress – can lead to memory lapses as we age. You can reduce the stress in your life through meditation, exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep.

Poor nutrition Malnutrition can create symptoms of mental confusion, uncertainty and slowness. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet helps improve cognitive function, including memory and recall. Vitamin B-12 – which helps with normal nerve function – is an important nutrient in maintaining good brain health. Vitamin D is also an important nutrient for memory and many older adults have a Vitamin D deficiency. A simple blood test can reveal if you need more Vitamin D in your diet. 

Infections can also cause temporary memory loss. One of the most common among seniors is urinary tract infection (UTI). Some other symptoms of UTI include a change in behavior, confusion, a decreased appetite and depression. Once treatment is started, many patients see improvement in these symptoms within a few days.

Depression – Depression and dementia share many symptoms, such as forgetfulness and the inability to focus. The good news is that symptoms are often much improved with counseling, medication and lifestyle changes.

Thyroid disease – When the thyroid gland produces too little or too much thyroid hormone, memory loss and confusion may result. A simple blood test can reveal a thyroid disorder. Most types of thyroid disease are easily treatable.

Dehydration – As we grow older, our brain tells us we are thirsty and sends out a weaker signal, so seniors may drink less water than is needed for good health. Dehydration symptoms, including disorientation and lethargy, can be similar to those of dementia. If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, talk to your doctor about how to get the fluids you need.

Memory loss is not a “natural part of growing older.” Geriatricians now recognize that dementia is part of a disease process. So if you’re experiencing symptoms, the first step is to rule out other, treatable conditions. If you find you do have dementia, a LifeSource home health professional may be able to help you remain in your home while you get the help you need.