Regardless of who you are or where you come from, one of the only sure things we can count on in life is that we all age. However, while some people may only age physically, others also age in unseen ways that can affect their mental health and memory.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, nearly 40 percent of people over the age of 65 will experience some form of memory loss in their lifetime. But before you get too worried, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined to develop a major degenerative disease. Memory loss comes in many forms, often varying in degrees of effect and more often than not is the result of family history.
So if you want to understand the risks you face as you age and what you can do to reduce that risk, this article will outline all the different ways in which your mind can be affected by memory loss, from Alzheimer’s and Dementia to simple forgetfulness and more.
What is Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a non-reversible and progressive type of dementia that directly affects a person’s memory. It is known to cause problems with how a person thinks and behaves. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it makes up between 60 to 80 percent of known dementia cases.
The disease is usually present in a person years before they begin to show symptoms in a stage called preclinical Alzheimer’s. This is the stage where the changes to the brain begin to occur that lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s. After that, there are considered to be three more stages of the disease.
The early stages are usually where you would be diagnosed. Early stage symptoms would include difficulty remembering recently learned information and mild confusion. Mid-range symptoms can consist of behavioural changes as well as uncertainty around the current time and place. Towards the end of the disease’s spectrum though, users can see more advanced behaviour changes as well as difficulty speaking, walking, and swallowing.
The vast majority of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will be over the age of 65, however, in some cases, early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur and affect those at varying ages, but are usually in their 40’s or 50’s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is generally caused by a genetic predisposition to the disease based on family history and affects roughly 1 percent of those with Alzheimer’s.
The average person who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will usually live four to eight years after, depending on the stage at which they were diagnosed and the severity of their symptoms as the disease progresses. However, this is not a hard and fast rule as lifestyle changes, clinical trials, and other factors can affect the lifespan of those diagnosed as well.
What is Dementia?
Contrary to popular belief dementia is not a disease in and of itself. It is actually an umbrella term for a host of cognitive diseases associated with a decline in neurological functions. Additionally, The Dementia Society also states that dementia is not a “one-size fits all” diagnosis as there are so many different forms it can take.
Alzheimer’s is commonly known as the most prolific dementia disease, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only one. Other forms of dementia include:
This form of dementia occurs after someone suffers a stroke and the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long. The symptoms and severity will vary depending on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen during the stroke.
Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Though Parkinson’s disease itself is mainly a physical deterioration, up to 80% of people who suffer from it can also develop a particular type of dementia as a result. You can only be diagnosed with this if you already have Parkinson’s.
Lewy Body Dementia
Often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease, this form of dementia shares similar symptoms, but is usually differentiated by the onset of dementia before any physical symptoms appear.
A rapidly progressive genetically-transmitted type of dementia that is more commonly found at a younger age than other forms of dementia. Symptoms include changes in language capabilities, lack of focus, and the inability to control impulses.
The presence of multiple forms of dementia in one person. This type of dementia is hard to diagnose as symptoms of various kinds of dementia are often so similar.
What Other Forms of Memory Loss Are There?
Though Dementia and its other forms are the most common thought when it comes to a decline in cognitive functions, there are also other forms of memory loss that occur naturally over time. Though these are not considered to be “diseases” themselves, they can often be symptoms or precursors to diagnosis later on if they fall outside of the normal range of forgetfulness.
As we age, we will undoubtedly lose some of our faculties and paying attention to these issues as they arise can help in prevention or early diagnosis if there is a bigger issue at play. The below list of memory loss issues are some normal forms of memory loss or forgetfulness that you may want to keep an eye on just in case.
This is a type of forgetfulness that occurs when you don’t pay close enough attention to detail and forget things that were said or even where you left things. We all do this, even in our youth, so it’s not a significant worry unless you start noticing an uptick in the frequency of these incidents as you age.
Otherwise known as the “it’s on the tip of my tongue” form of forgetfulness. We’ve all been there: someone mentions a plot point from an old movie and you just can’t remember the name of it for the life of you. Not being able to recall facts to your mind quickly is normal and should only be of concern if you start forgetting important details or events in your life.
The act of forgetting specific details in an otherwise whole memory. An example of this is in instances where you’re telling a story, but can’t quite remember who was there, so you fill in the blank with someone else you may have thought to have experienced it with. It can also come about when you accidentally misattribute an idea as your own when it came from someone else. This happens naturally over time as our memories and recall grow hazy, so it’s not a big issue unless you begin repeatedly misaligning time and place in your stories.
The act of forgetting facts or events over time. This generally occurs to all of us as we age, so it is not necessarily a sign of a developing disease or disorder. The more often you recall a memory, the more likely you are to remember it, so if a memory from times gone by goes a little fuzzy, that’s generally normal. Concern should only be raised when you start forgetting more recent and prevalent memories.
Unfortunately, at this time dementia is irreversible. Once you have it, there are no ways to get rid of it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to try and prevent it from forming in the first place.
Family History and Health Conditions
If you have a family history of these diseases, you may be at risk of carrying a genetic mutation associated with them. If you test positively for this, something you can look into is taking part in a clinical trial. These experiments help researchers and doctors better understand the effects of the disease and may help prevent you from developing it early or at all depending on how far along the research is.
However, other factors aside from genetic predisposition also play a part in the development of Alzheimer’s. Having high blood pressure or cholesterol and/or diabetes is considered to increase your risk of developing neurological diseases as up to 80% of people diagnosed with it also have some form of cardiovascular disease.
There are also several drugs available for certain diseases that can help improve symptoms or keep new symptoms from occurring, but there is no guarantee they will work for your particular condition or if they do, how long they will continue to help.
Research also shows that those who have limited social circles and fewer interactions with others are at a higher risk for developing these diseases as well. This is believed to be because regular conversation and interaction with others offers stimulation and may strengthen your mind to help combat or offset the disease.
Building up your cognitive functions can also go a long way in maintaining your brain health. There are many highly rated brain training apps available for your phone, tablet, or computer. These apps can help you improve certain skills and improve upon your memory. By building a solid base, you can help strengthen your mind and potentially prevent the early onset of some diseases.
Safety and Lifestyle
Another strong link with developing memory loss disorders is head trauma. Whether you’ve had head trauma in the past or have it in the future, it could increase your risk of developing cognitive diseases. To prevent further cognitive damage, it’s always best to wear seat belts in cars, wear helmets when participating in sports, and to “fall-proof” your home by adding more padding and protection against hard edges. This last step is especially helpful to you as you age.
Preventing Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and memory loss can also be accomplished through a lifestyle of healthy eating and frequent exercise. Though no diet or particular food is considered the ultimate in prevention, living as healthily as you can go a long way. As most cognitive diseases are linked to cardiovascular health, one of the best things you can do is take care of your overall health to help prevent issues from arising.
Know Your Mind
Ultimately, when it comes to dementia and memory loss, there's no quick fix or easy workaround to prevent it. But you are your own best defence when it comes to your health. Though it's up to you, if you have a family history of dementia or similar diseases, you can always take it upon yourself to get tested and see whether or not you have a higher risk of developing it based on your genetics. By taking control of your actions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and making known any issues you notice in regards to your memory, you stand a much better chance of living a longer, happier, and healthier life.