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How to Prevent Memory Loss in Old Age

Summary: Memory loss prevention is an important factor in aging. Not all memory loss is the same, and age-related memory loss does not mean you have dementia. Explore ways to help prevent, slow, and treat memory loss including ways to exercise your brain and the foods you can eat to help keep your mind sharp. Estimated Read Time: 12 min

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Table of Contents:

  1. Understanding Memory Loss
  2. Forgetfulness vs Dementia
  3. Factors that Contribute to Memory Loss as you Age
  4. Symptoms of Memory Loss for Seniors
  5. Reversible Causes of Memory Loss
  6. How to Prevent Memory Loss
  7. Tips to Exercise Your Brain as You Age
  8. Being Proactive with Medicare to Help Prevent Memory Loss

As you grow older, it is not uncommon to worry about how your memory will serve you as you age. It is no secret that memory loss is common among older adults. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 40% of Medicare-aged adults in the United States suffer from memory loss. That is nearly 16 million individuals, and that number continues to grow each year. It is also estimated that nearly 4 out of 10 dementia cases can be prevented or delayed with the right medical care.

We’ve all forgotten where we left our keys, whether or not we unplugged the toaster, or even if we remembered to lock the door before leaving on a weekend trip. This type of memory loss is completely normal. However, things become more serious when you forget everyday skills such as how to work the microwave, how to make correct change when buying groceries, or even how to use the television remote.

Regardless of your age, taking the right steps to help prevent memory loss can impact your cognitive abilities and allow you to live your normal life as long as possible. Below, we review the warning signs you should watch out for, risk factors, and the steps you can take to help prevent memory loss in old age.

Understanding Memory Loss

We have all heard the term, but may still find ourselves asking exactly what is memory loss? Memory loss is defined as the inability to recall certain information or perform tasks that were previously stored in your brain. Experiencing memory loss can make it difficult to complete tasks that used to come as second-nature.

Memory loss comes in several forms and can last for a short period of time and then resolve, or it may be prolonged and get worse with time. In some of the more severe cases, memory loss can interfere with daily living, making it a danger to the individual(s) affected.

Memory loss is a serious condition, so it is important to understand the warning signs as well as the factors that contribute to loss of memory. You should also understand the difference between short-term and long-term memory loss as well as permanent and reversible memory loss.

It is also important to know that the early signs of a serious memory-loss disease can present up to 15 years before the serious effects of the disease surface. By understanding memory loss, you can help ensure you do everything you can to prevent serious memory loss as you age.

Forgetfulness vs Dementia

Having a forgetful mind is a natural part of the aging process. As we age, we tend to use our cognitive functions less and less, resulting in more episodes of forgetfulness. However, once forgetfulness crosses the line into memory loss, you could be lurking closer to a more serious issue – dementia. Dementia, unlike forgetfulness, in not a normal part of the aging process.

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Dementia is a general term that describes the loss of cognitive functions such as remembering, thinking, language, and reasoning to the point that is impacts daily living. Dementia is not one single disease. However, it is a culmination of memory loss symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases in the U.S. It is estimated that 5 to 8% of individuals over the age of 60 will live with dementia at some point.

On the other hand, forgetfulness, also known as age-associated memory impairment, is extremely common, and often deemed normal. If you are experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline but they do not impact your daily life or affect tasks you could typically complete with ease, you are likely experiencing forgetfulness rather than dementia. It is estimated that nearly 40% of seniors will be impacted by forgetfulness.

Memory loss can be viewed as a spectrum with forgetfulness on the mildest side and dementia on the harshest side. In the line of progression between forgetfulness and dementia is mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment occurs when you experience severe memory loss, disorientation, or have difficulty speaking, but not so severe as to impact your daily life. This could mean a one-off episode, or multiple instances over a long period of time.

So, you may be asking how to determine whether your memory loss is dementia or forgetfulness? Unfortunately, only a doctor can make that diagnosis. However, it is important to compare your symptoms to the signs of both forgetfulness and dementia.

Signs of Forgetfulness:

  • You are unable to remember the name of a high school classmate.
  • You forget the time or date of a birthday party you were invited to.
  • You are unable to recall the details of a conversation you had over one year ago.

Signs of Dementia: 

  • You are unable to remember the names of close friends or family members.
  • You forget phone numbers or addresses you use on a daily basis.
  • You have frequent pauses in conversation to find the words you are trying to say.

According to Dr. Zaldy Tan, director of the Bernard and Maxine Platzer Lynn Family Memory and Healthy Aging Program, medical director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders, and the Carmen and Louis Warschaw Chair in Neurology at Cedars-Sinai, “If it (memory loss) begins to happen with more frequency and you spend quite a bit of effort looking for things you’ve lost, or if someone you trust notices a change in your memory, it’s worthwhile to get checked.”

He goes on to say, “Especially if you have a family history of memory problems, share your concerns with your primary care doctor.”

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Even if your doctor deems your memory perfectly normal, it is important to be proactive when it comes to memory care. You can never be too sure.

Factors that Contribute to Memory Loss as you Age

The severity of memory loss can vary depending on your situation. In some cases, it may impact an individual’s daily life, affecting their ability to learn, retain new information, and recall past experiences. However, in other cases, memory loss may come in periodic episodes that do not result in long-term implications.

There are several factors that can lead to memory loss in aging adults. However, some of the most common include:

  • Neurological disorders
  • Head trauma
  • Stress
  • Certain medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Aging

Each of these factors can lead to memory loss in one capacity or another. Below we break down each factor to help you understand how they can contribute to significant memory loss.

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders can significantly impact the memory function of seniors. These conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, often involve progressive brain cell damage which lead to a decline in cognitive functions, including memory.

Common neurological disorders include:

  • Alzheimer disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Fronto-temporal dementia
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Nearly 25% of dementia cases are due to vascular dementia alone. This makes up nearly one quarter of the impacted population. The effects of these neurological disorders can range from mild forgetfulness to severe memory loss, and in the most profound instances, can affect an individual’s daily life.

Head Trauma

Head trauma such as traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can have a lasting effect on an individual’s memory. When a TBI is present, the brain’s chemical structure and functions can be changed resulting in difficulties retaining and/or recalling information. The severity of memory impairment as a result of a TBI varies depending on the extent of the head trauma and the specific areas of the brain affected.

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Those aged 65 and older have a 65% higher chance of experiencing head trauma. Thus, it is important to be cautious when you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

Head trauma is a serious injury that should not be taken lightly. If you experience a fall or even a slight blow to the head, it is important to be seen by a physician who can assess your injuries. This way, if medical attention is needed, you are able to receive the proper care to help eliminate any form of memory loss due to the injury.

Stress

More common in older adults, it is not unlikely for stress to be linked to memory loss. Stress hormones can impact the brains hippocampus which is the part of the brain that houses crucial memory functions. High levels of stress hormones mean a higher chance for your memory to suffer from a delay or lack of retention.

Ongoing stress is not good for your physical or mental health. Ongoing stress can contribute to difficulty learning new information and difficulty recalling details, which in turn can create unnecessary memory loss.

General Anxiety disorder can be a leading factor in stress induced memory loss among seniors. According to a study performed by Cedars-Sinai, around 14-17% of individuals aged 65 and older are diagnosed with general anxiety. Thus, heightening their chances of stress-related memory loss.

Certain Medications

Side effects of certain medications can be the cause for memory loss among seniors. Older adults often take several medications for various health reasons, and the chemical reactions between these drugs can contribute to memory-related issues. It’s essential for healthcare providers to monitor and adjust medications to minimize adverse cognitive effects of certain medications.

If you believe a medication is messing with your cognitive abilities, it is imperative that you speak with your doctor before eliminating the medication on your own. This way, your physician can prescribe you an alternate medication to help your medical symptoms and also help to end the deterioration of your memory function.

Medical Conditions

Underlying medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes can affect cognitive function, leading to memory loss. Addressing and managing any underlying health condition is essential to help reduce the impact on memory loss and to promoting overall brain health.

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It is estimated that 94.9% of adults aged 60 and older have at least one diagnosed condition, while 78.7% of adults in the age range have more than one diagnosed condition. This means, the likelihood of an individual having an underlying condition that can impact memory loss is higher among this age group. Luckily, these individuals can utilize Medicare benefits to receive annual wellness checks that can help doctors catch memory loss early and begin a treatment plan.

Aging

On one hand, aging itself is a natural and unavoidable life occurrence. However, on the other hand it is often associated with changes in the brain’s function which can lead to age-related memory loss. These age-related changes can contribute to mild cognitive decline and impact memory. However, it’s essential to differentiate normal age-related memory changes from more severe conditions.

Recognizing the effects of aging on your cognitive abilities is essential. However, it is also important to be able to separate typical age-related memory loss from a more serious issue.

Understanding the factors that can lead to memory loss is a good first step in helping to prevent memory loss in older adults. Once you can determine the factors that can lead to this serious cognitive disorder, you can begin taking the necessary steps to reduce your impacts.

Symptoms of Memory Loss for Seniors

Memory loss in seniors can present itself in various ways. It is extremely important to distinguish between normal age-related forgetfulness and more serious cognitive issues. However, making that distinction can be difficult as lines often blur between serious memory loss and everyday forgetfulness. Common symptoms of memory loss in seniors may include the following.

  • Forgetfulness – You may experience increased forgetfulness as they age. Forgetfulness, in this instance, goes beyond the occasional lapses in memory that are considered normal for aging individuals.
  • Difficulty in Learning New Information – You may begin to find it difficult to retain new information once your brain begins its cognitive decline.
  • Repetitive Questions or Statements – You may begin to repeat questions or statements without realizing you have already said them.
  • Misplacing Items – You may begin losing items or putting them in unusual places.
  • Confusion about Time or Place – You may exhibit confusion regarding the current time or your current location.
  • Difficulty Problem-Solving – You may experience challenges in solving problems or making decisions.
  • Changes in Mood or Personality – You may experience unexplained shifts in mood or personality.
  • Difficulty in Finding Words – It may become a struggle for you to find the right words during conversations
  • Decreased Judgment – You may begin to exhibit a decline in judgment, making decisions that seem out of character or risky
  • Withdrawal from Social Activities – A reduction in participation in social activities may occur.

Just because you have one or more of these symptoms, does not mean you have dementia or another cognitive disorder. However, if you find that your symptoms do not go away with time or continue to get worse, it is important to visit your primary care doctor.

When visiting your doctor, they will likely preform a series of cognitive question and answer style tests to determine the severity of your memory loss. So, it is important to be a prepared and accurate as possible. An example of the questions they may ask include:

  • When did your memory loss symptoms begin?
  • What medications do you take?
  • What tasks do you find difficult?
  • Do you drink alcohol or use recreational drugs?
  • Have you been in an accident or recently fallen?

The answer to these, along with other questions will help determine your diagnosis.

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If you are in fact diagnosed with a cognitive disorder or dementia, it is important to fully understand your diagnosis and ask questions. Learning to cope with your new diagnosis can be difficult, so it is important to have a strong support system of friends and family by your side.

More than 68% of individuals in the United States currently affected by dementia find themselves without the proper support system in place. If you find yourself in this position, there are resources available to you. Contact your local community center or family services for more information.

Additionally, it may be a good idea to begin bringing a trusted individual with you to your future appointments so they can help understand and care for your symptoms.

Remember, it is essential to be proactive if you have even the slightest concerns about your memory. If you receive care too late, your options may be limited. Individuals experiencing memory loss symptoms should make regular appointments with their doctors every 6 months for a check in to ensure their symptoms have not worsened.

Reversible Causes of Memory Loss

If you are experiencing signs of memory loss and are worried you may be on the path to dementia, there may be an alternate route. Not all memory loss is permanent and irreversible. There are several causes of memory loss that can be treated and will not impact you in the long term. Potentially reversible causes of memory loss include:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Depression
  • Brain tumors
  • Delirium
  • Alcoholism
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Thyroid disorders

According to a study by Srikanth, reversible causes of memory loss, especially neuroinfectious and vitamin B12 deficiency accounts for nearly 18% of all dementias worldwide. However, overall, the reported frequency of dementia caused by reversible factors can range up to 23%. Many of these dementias are deemed irreversible due to the lack of resources and understanding of how these reversible factors cause a cognitive decline.

With proper medical care and regular checkups, these dementias can be caught early and potentially reversed by receiving proper care. Most reversible dementias can be identified through a review of your medical history, physical and psychiatric evaluation, and routine testing.

It is important for your doctor to check for these underlying causes to avoid future problems if they go untreated.

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How to Prevent Memory Loss

A declining memory is a scary reality for many aging adults in the U.S. There is no sure-fire way to prevent memory loss. However, there are steps you can take to ensure you are not contributing to active cognitive decline.

Your brain is a muscle, so working your brain each day will ultimately help its function throughout your life. According to Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist at George Washington Hospital University, mental decline is not a factor that all aging individuals will face.

Dr. Restak is well known in the world of neurology and is adamant about living by his seven rules for keeping memory sharp.

These seven rules include:

  1. Reading fiction books as a way to expand your mind and exercise your memory.
  2. Never leave an art museum without testing your memory. His best advice on doing this is to memorize your favorite piece of art and being to explain it in detail as you are looking away from it.
  3. If you must nap throughout the day, keep it under 90 minutes.
  4. Never leave a party without playing a brain game.
  5. Eat brain foods such as nuts and seeds, especially walnuts which are rich in omega-3 fatty acid.
  6. Create images in your mind for hard to remember things.
  7. Do not sit at home on the couch all day.

By practicing what he preaches, the 81-year-old neurologist has one of the sharpest minds in the field.

Aside from these seven rules, there are other ways to be proactive and prevent memory loss as you age. Dr. Tan mentions “To preserve your memory, get enough sleep. Avoid certain medications like prescription sleep aids and benzodiazepines. Exercise your body and your mind—social interaction can protect you against memory loss. Be aware of your moods, and if you’re frequently sad, angry or irritable, get screened for depression, which can also impact memory.”

At the first signs of memory loss, talking to your doctor is important. Being proactive is the best way to allow your care team to put a plan in place to help slow your cognitive decline. Leaning on friends and family members for support is also another essential way to be proactive.

Preventing memory loss is an active and ongoing process. There is no one step solution to having a sharp mind. However, combining all of the tips and tricks in this article should help steer you in the right direction when it comes to improved cognitive functions.

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Tips to Exercise Your Brain as You Age

Exercising your brain should be on everyone’s priority list as we age. It is essential to prioritize not only physical health but also cognitive well-being to ensure your mind is well tuned in your golden years. Just like our bodies, our brains need regular exercise to stay resilient. There are several actions that can help your brain stay young as we age.

Stay Socially Connected

Staying socially connected to friends and family has proven to improve cognitive abilities. Seniors who maintain a strong social circle as they age tend to have less memory-related complications than those who tend to isolate themselves and experience loneliness.

In the age of social media, staying active socially has never been easier. Social media allows you to connect with friends and family near and far, and also allows you a glimpse into their daily lives. This is great for seniors who may not be as mobile as they once were, or individuals who have family members that have moved from their local area.

In addition to social media, being physically present with your friends and family is arguably the most important form of social connection. In most areas, there are local senior centers or community rec centers that offer classes, sports leagues, and game nights to help seniors make connections. Whether you are looking for high intensity fun or a relaxing conversation, connecting with others is proven to help stimulate your brain and reduce the effects of cognitive decline.

Puzzle Games and Brain Teasers

Brain games and puzzles are an enjoyable way to help keep your mind sharp. A number of studies have shown that brain games help improve memory and reduce cognitive decline. Not only can you protect your own memory by playing these games, but you can also build social connections while helping others exercise their brain.

Brain games and puzzles can help combat social isolation, connect you with loved ones, exercise your mind, and improve your thinking skills all while enjoying friendly competition. The best exercise happens when you don’t even realize it is happening.

Some common brain games and puzzles include:

  • Chess
  • Checkers
  • Bingo
  • Mahjong
  • Sudoku
  • Wordle
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Word finds
  • Scrabble
  • Trivia

Balanced Nutrition

A balanced nutrition is not only essential for your physical health, but is also an important factor in your cognitive function as well. A healthy diet can increase specific hormones to your brain that help improve brain functionality. This can aid in mood, memory, attention span, and learning.

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There is a direct relationship between our brain and the food we ingest. Eating the right kinds of foods will produce new neurons in our brain that can affect the synaptic plasticity of our brains. This allows our brain to communicate and learn at a faster pace.  So, just as we were taught as children, it is equally important to fuel up on fruits and veggies as you age to help improve cognitive function.

Here is a list of “brain foods” that are sure to help improve your memory:

  • Salmon
  • Nuts
  • Blueberries
  • Avocados
  • Red cabbage
  • Leafy greens
  • Brown Rice
  • Green Tea
  • Quinoa

Incorporating these foods into your daily menu can contribute significantly to maintaining a healthy brain as you age. 

Being Proactive with Medicare to Help Prevent Memory Loss

Once you qualify for Medicare coverage, it is important to visit your doctor annually or more frequently if concerns arise. Medicare provides coverage for the treatment and prevention of memory loss, so it is essential to be proactive and utilize the benefits.

To ensure you are getting the most out of your benefits, it is important to have regular health checkups. During these checkups, you can speak with your doctor about your concerns and be tested for cognitive disorders.

Medicare Part D will also help cover the cost of any approved medications you are prescribed as a result of your memory loss symptom, including the newly FDA approved drug, Leqembi and other common memory medications like Donepezil, Galantamine, and Memantine.

Additionally, you may receive coverage if you are required to stay in an inpatient memory facility as a result of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to stay informed and advocate for yourself or have a loved one present who can speak on your behalf. It is also essential to review your health coverage each year to ensure it properly covers the demands of your health.

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To review your health coverage with a licensed agent, complete our online rate form today. At MedicareFAQ, we help educate our clients on the services and benefits they may be missing out on. Medicare coverage is extensive, so working with a professional who understand the ins and outs of the federal healthcare system is essential.

Sources

MedicareFAQ is dedicated to providing you with authentic and trustworthy Medicare information. We have strict sourcing guidelines and work diligently to serve our readers with accurate and up-to-date content.

  1. Memory Loss: When to Seek Help, Mayo Clinic. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046326
  2. Memory Loss, Penn Medicine . Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/memory-loss
  3. Geriatric Head Injury, National Library of Medicine. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553101/
  4. The Top 10 Most Common Chronic Conditions in Older Adults, NCOA. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-top-10-most-common-chronic-conditions-in-older-adults
  5. Get the facts about memory loss, Harvard Health . Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/get-the-facts-about-memory-loss
  6. Three in five people affected by dementia struggled with too little support over last year, Alzheimers.org. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/2022-06-29/three-five-people-affected-dementia-struggled-too-little-support-over-last-year#:~:text=Over%20two%2Dthirds%20(68%25),how%20to%20deal%20with%20dementia.
  7. Social Engagement and Cognition, National Library of Medicine . Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83766/
  8. An 81-year-old brain doctor’s 7 ‘hard rules’ for keeping your memory ‘sharp as a whip’, CNBC. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/02/81-year-old-neuroscience-shares-brain-rules-that-keep-his-memory-sharp-as-a-whip.html
  9. Recognizing Symptoms of Dementia and Seeking Help, CDC. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/dementia-not-normal-aging.html
  10. When Should I Be Concerned About Memory Loss?, Cedars Sinai. Accessed January 2024.
    https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/concerned-about-memory-loss.html
Kayla Hopkins

Kayla Hopkins

Content Editor
Kayla Hopkins is an accomplished writer and Medicare educator serving as the Editor of MedicareFAQ.com. Upon completing her Communications degree from Ohio University, Kayla dedicated her time to understanding the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. With her extensive background as a Licensed Insurance Agent, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her writing.
Ashlee Zareczny

Ashlee Zareczny

Compliance Manager
Ashlee Zareczny is the Compliance Manager for MedicareFAQ. As a licensed Medicare agent in all 50 states, she is dedicated to educating those eligible for Medicare by providing the necessary resources and tools. Additionally, Ashlee trains new and tenured Medicare agents on CMS compliance guidelines. Ashlee is a Medicare expert who specializes in Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D education.

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