March News: Memory Care

Let’s Focus on Memory Care

As we get older, changes occur in all parts of your body. That includes your brain. Here are the primary changes:

Grandmother teaches young granddaughter how to knit.

Your brain, like the rest of your body, changes as you get older.

  • Certain parts of the brain shrink. This is especially true of those parts that are important to learning.
  • Communication between neurons diminishes.
  • Blow flow to the brain slows.
  • Inflammation to the brain may increase with illness or injury.

These changes in the brain can interfere mental function. Some older adults feel they don’t do as well as younger people on complicated memory or learning tests. But given enough time, older adults can do as well as younger people. Scientific evidence suggests that the brain adapts to new challenges and tasks. It is not completely clear why some people think well as they get older and others do not. One possible reason may be that some people have a greater “cognitive reserve”. That is the brain’s ability to work well even when part of it is disrupted. For example, people with more education seem to have more cognitive reserve than others.

How you remember, plan, organize, make decisions and other mental tasks are controlled by the brain. These cognitive abilities affect how well people can live independently. As you age, you may notice that you have:

  • Increased difficulty in finding the right words or recalling names.
  • More problems with multi-taking
  • Mild difficulty in your ability to pay attention.

You Have Wisdom!

Although you may feel that you are losing some of your cognitive ability, know that you have a wealth of knowledge and insight from your life’s experiences. You have wisdom!

Young adult granddaughter helping her grandmother pay bills at a desk.

Remembering to pay bills may become more difficult.

Your Age and Your Memory: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

As we get older, we begin to get concerned about our memory and thinking abilities. We seem to take longer to learn new things. Or, we forget to pay a bill or return a phone call. These things are usually signs of mild forgetfulness which is a normal part of aging.

What’s the difference between normal, age-related forgetfulness and a serious memory problem? Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving and shopping. Signs may include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Not being able to follow instructions
  • Becoming confused about time, people, and places

What is MCI?

MCI is the acronym for Mild Cognitive Impairment. Some older adults do have mild cognitive problems but that does not mean that they can’t take care of themselves or participate in normal activities. They just have a few more thinking problems than others their age. Not everyone with MCI develops Alzheimer’s Disease. Common signs of MCI include:

  • Losing things often
  • Forgetting to go to important events or appointments
  • Having trouble coming up with desired words than others of the same age

If you feel you have MCI, you should visit your doctor every 6 to 12 months to see if you have any changes in memory and thinking skills. There may be some things you can do to maintain your memory and mental skills. There are no medications approved for the treatment of MCI.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a loss of cognitive functioning, that is, thinking, remembering, learning and reasoning. These problems affect behavior and the ability to manage daily life and activities. Memory loss is common, but it is not the only sign of dementia. People often have problems with language skills, visual perception or paying attention. Some people experience personality changes. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. There are different forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease being one.

Senior woman thinking with open refrigerator door wondering why she needed a sweet pepper.

Memory Check! Why did I need this?

Getting older has enough frustrations. Don’t compound your problems by tolerating a poor memory. If you don’t have Alzheimer’s, then you can improve your memory. Avoid more problems by keeping good bone health and reducing stress in everyday living.

How Can I Boost My Memory?

  • Get Better Organized! If you put things in their proper places, they will be there when you look for them. Car keys, for example, should go back on the key holder, the drawer, your purse or wherever you decide the proper place for them. Always put them there and they will be there when you look for them. Ditto for other objects like your purse, your hat or your glasses. Life is a lot simpler when everything is in its place!
  • Work harder to pay attention and concentrate. It’s easy to forget what you’re looking for when opening the fridge. Distractions cause you to forget, not your memory.
  • Eat well. You might want to take vitamin supplements. The B vitamins and D3 are best. It’s been found that blueberries and red wine boost memory in a small way.
  • Exercise your body. If your doctor approves, vigorous aerobic exercise improves memory. It also helps blood circulation and improves mood.
  • Exercise Your Brain. Play Sudoko or chess. Work crossword puzzles. Take music lessons. Memorize your grocery list.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Your brain processes the day’s events while you sleep and stores them in your memory.

    Senior woman in sunglasses and big hat out driving on a sunny day.

    Memory is important when driving.

Video Games: Can They Help My Memory?

Researchers have recently discovered that video games with elderly improves cognitive health. Study findings were published in Behavioural Brain Research in 2020.

Video games show potential in improving key aspects of memory in senior adults.

In this study, adults 60 to 80 years of age, with similar cognitive ability participated. Could novel, three-dimensional video gameplay enhance memory more than two-dimensional gameplay?

Some seniors played “Super Mario tm”, a three-dimensional game. Others played “Solitaire”, a two-dimensional card game familiar to the test group. Gameplay was conducted for 30 to 45 minutes each day for four weeks. Still others played the “Angry Birds tm” two-dimensional video game. At the end of the four weeks, researchers conducted a series of memory tests on participants. Improved memory and cognition was found among those who played “Super Mario tm” in comparison to those who played only “Solitaire”. Even those who played “Angry Birds tm” had improved memory over those who played “Solitaire”, simply due to the novel, video-type nature of the game.

Grandmother and young granddaughter play video games.

Video games can improve memory and cognition.

These findings suggest that both novel experiences and rich, three-dimensional environments may work together to result in improved cognition. This is very good news, especially for those people who cannot get out much or are homebound.

This research was supported in part by National Institute on Aging (NIA) grants R01AG034613, R21AG056145, and P50AG016573.

Reference: Clemenson G, et al. Enriching hippocampal memory function in older adults through video gamesBehavioural Brain Research. 2020;390:112667. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112667.

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