Our thanks to Cheryl Brandi, DNSc, ARNP, NP-C of the Roskamp Institute Clinic for contributing this article.
We all have those moments where we forget someone’s name, or where we put the car keys. These “senior moments” are understood to be part of the normal aging process. However, at what point should one be concerned that something more serious might be occurring?
With aging, parts of the brain shrink, especially the prefrontal area and hippocampus, areas responsible for memory, learning, planning. Changes occur in nerve tissue (neurons) and chemical transmitters between neurons, affecting cell-to-cell communication. Brain arteries narrow, fewer new capillaries are formed. Sometimes plaques or “white spots” can be found on brain MRI images. Inflammation and damage by free radicals also cause some tissue destruction.
As a result, with aging, we can expect a slight decrease in ability to learn new information. People might feel a little “blue” about changes. Learning new information takes longer and some repetition might be needed. Decision-making can take longer.
However, there are some signs that can signal the need for a thorough medical evaluation. These all involve noticeable changes in memory or thinking or behavior that seem different to a person or to family or friends. Some cues include trouble remembering appointments, trouble remembering conversations, forgetting directions to familiar places, trouble following a familiar recipe or using a computer, needing to make more lists than before, repeating the same conversation, and changes in mood or behavior, such as loss of interest in a hobby.
Getting checked for memory concerns can be as simple as undergoing a 30-minute formal memory screening, conducted in private by a trained screener. A number of locations offer free screenings to people aged 55 and up, such as the Roskamp Institute Clinic and the Friendship Center. After review of results, letters are sent to the individual, and if there is some concern, participants are urged to follow up with a medical provider of their choice.
There are a number of important reasons for investigating concerns about a possible memory or thinking problem. Early diagnosis leads to earlier and more effective treatment, and may halt or slow a progression to dementia. It allows time for changing lifestyles, such as improving diet, increasing exercise and reducing stress. Memory medications work better when used earlier. It may also be an important time for participation in much-needed research.
For more information about the Roskamp Institute Clinic go to www.roskamps.com.