My own mother, pictured here, died of dementia in her mid-80s. By the time she died, she was very confused about where she was living and who lived with her. She could no longer drive or handle money. She recognized my father and sister, but was hostile towards most other people. Her dementia was obvious, but that is not always the case. How do we know if everything is operating normally with our brains, or when we should be worried?
Fortunately, the Cleveland Clinic has put together a list of behaviors which are normal, along with a list of memory problems which can indicate a serious problem.
Normal Cognitive Aging of the Brain
* Trouble remembering a phone number
* Forgetting where you left your car keys
* Taking longer to perform basic math
* Forgetting why you entered a room
* Momentarily forgetting the next step in a process
* Forgetting the name of a public figure or a person you have not seen in a while
* Taking longer to come up with the right word
Abnormal Cognitive Impairment or Signs of Dementia
* Difficulty managing your finances
* Problems performing tasks which involve a sequence
* Failing to recognize familiar people
* Getting lost in familiar places; inability to follow directions
* Problems following your medication prescriptions
* Trouble remembering how to do things you have done many times before
* Asking the same questions repeatedly
* Difficulty following conversations
* Easily losing your train of thought
* Increasingly poor judgment
Relax if the Cognitive Impairment is Mild
If the majority of your memory lapses fall in the top category, it is time to relax. Some memory and cognitive problems are normal for everyone, beginning in your 60s. Feeling stress, or worrying and obsessing over your memory will only make things worse, so lighten up on yourself.
What to do if the Cognitive Impairment Seems Abnormal
If you or someone you care about is having memory lapses which fall in the second category, you need to become more proactive. There are several actions you can take. Most of these actions are a good idea, even if your memory seems normal:
* Talk to your doctor about prescription medications which could help slow down the dementia symptoms
* Ask your doctor to make sure you are not experiencing a B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, or side effects from your medications
* If you are experiencing hearing or vision loss, sleep apnea, or depression, get those problems treated because they can lead to dementia
* If you smoke or drink too much, give up these high-risk behaviors
* Eat a heart healthy, Mediterranean-style diet that is plant based; anything which is good for the heart is also good for the brain
* Get at least 30 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, a minimum of 5 times a week
* Keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other blood factors at optimal levels
* Play online brain games, particularly those which involve speed of processing. They have been shown to be the most effective games at slowing down your cognitive decline. Check out Luminosity or any number of brain game apps on your smartphone or mobile device.
* Stimulate your brain in other ways, such as reading books, solving crossword puzzles, learning a foreign language or how to play a musical instrument.
* Stay socially engaged with other people. Isolation increases your dementia risk.
Learn more about dementia from the Cleveland Clinic website.
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Photo credit: Author's personal family photo