Memory Changes With Aging -- What's Normal, What's Not?
Doctor, psychologist who specialize in Dementia and Alzheimer's offer insight on what you can do to cope with and ward off memory loss.
Dementia is not a disease, said Dr. Bruce Abbott, medical director of neurology at Southcoast Brain & Spine Center in Dartmouth, Mass.
“We tend to ‘medicalize’ everything,” Abbott said in a session on what people should know about Alzheimer’s and Dementia on Monday afternoon, Dec. 3.
“Most people with Dementia live lives that aging creates,” said. “Memory changes with aging.”
“You can be competent for one thing and lack the capacity for something else,” said Dr. John Dorn, a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychology for Southcoast. He partnered with Abbott in the session sponsored by the Bayside YMCA at the Barrington library.
“And the older you get, the more likely you are to get it,” Abbott said. “And we are all living longer than ever.”
So, what’s normal and what’s not? What distinguishes the changes of typical aging from Dementia and Alzheimer's? And what can people do about it?
Typical aging allows people to handle daily activities. Someone might complain of memory loss but still be able to provide details through incidents of forgetfulness.
You remember recent events, and your conversations are not impaired, although finding the right word from time to time might be difficult.
“Not remembering what a bottle opener is called,” said Dorn is an example. “But you can describe it in detail to your grandson.”
“You might not remember the name of a person you are talking to,” he said. “But you can remember the conversation. That’s perfectly normal.”
You do not get lost in familiar surroundings, and you can operate common appliances, although you might be unwilling to learn how to operate newer devices.
Dementia causes people to become dependent on others, and there is a noticeable decline in memory for recent events and difficult in conversing with others.
There are frequent word-finding pauses and substitutions, and you might get lost in familiar surroundings while walking or driving. You can’t operate common appliances, and you exhibit no interest in social activities. You might even behave in a socially inappropriate way.
What can you do to reduce the risk or treat Dementia?
Drugs only work in the short term, said Abbott. And there is no benefit in many cases.
“And they’re very expensive,” he said. “You work all your life to get to a certain level of affluence. This is not the way to spend it.”
“It’s discouraging that we don’t have more to use,” he said.
Physical and mental exercise is the best thing you can do for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, Abbott said. Bar none.
“There’s a tremendous association between physical and mental ability,” he said. “You should remain socially engaged as well.
Indeed, said Abbott and Dorn, you should follow the lifestyle, dietary advice and medical treatment you would to protect yourself from heart attacks and strokes.
“It’s exactly the same thing,” Abbott said.
Learning to use new electronics also can help prevent memory loss, said Dorn.
“Get a Kindle or other tablet and learn to use it,” he said.