Memory changes are a part of normal ageing. But when should you look out for signs of dementia? Read on to know
BENGALURU: Difficulty remembering names or frequently misplacing your glasses may seem familiar, but are a considerable cause of worry among older adults is that these may be signs of dementia. WHO estimates around 50 million people live with dementia worldwide which accounts for around 5-8 per cent of the population above 60 years. Understanding memory changes that are part of natural ageing and identifying early signs of dementia is important, so when required, interventions can be provided early.
Memory changes in normal ageing
Memory is a complex process involving encoding and storage of information in our brain that is retrieved later. As we age, our bodies undergo physical changes which are noticeable, but our brain also undergoes several physiological changes. These result in slowing down information processing so older adults experience delays whilst recollecting information or take longer to learn something new. Allowing yourself more time rather than getting flustered can help and make one feel more confident about these natural changes.
Memories also have a transient, use-it-or-lose it quality. This actually helps to de-clutter the brain and make way for new memories. It is perfectly normal for older adults to forget information they haven’t used for a while, for example, recipes. Whilst this can be demotivating, one can always re-learn something. Many older adults go back to hobbies they were unable to engage with earlier in their lives due to family or work commitments; and besides learning any new skill is a great way to keep your brain active and healthy.
Forgetfulness and signs of dementia
Everyone experiences brief memory lapses and difficulty finding words occasionally. However, if it occurs frequently enough to be pointed out by others or people find it difficult to understand what you are saying, this could be a sign of dementia. Forgetting names of those you don’t meet regularly is quite normal, but difficulty remembering names of close family/friends is a clear warning sign. We all forget directions sometimes, however, people with dementia have difficulty remembering directions even in familiar places. They feel confused and may avoid going out or get lost, for example, when returning home from the market nearby.
Several other factors can also impact memory, like visual or hearing impairment, medication side effects, excessive alcohol intake, sleep difficulties, nutritional deficiencies (particularly vitamin B12), depression, anxiety and certain medical conditions. As many of these conditions can be treated, seeking professional help is important. Meeting a geriatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can provide a proper diagnosis aided by detailed clinical evaluations, neuropsychological tests and brain scans.
Recently, a Lancet Commission report highlighted 12 modifiable risk factors that can delay up to 40 per cent of dementias. These include limiting smoking and alcohol intake, addressing hearing impairment, controlling diabetes/hypertension, improving physical health with regular exercise and addressing psychological issues like depression and loneliness. Although memory changes are a natural part of ageing, keeping oneself active and engaged can go a long way by adding life to the years.
(The author is the co-founder and project director at Samvedna Senior Care)