It’s Important to Understand Memory Loss in Seniors

Published: June 8, 2023

As people age, they often experience a decline in their cognitive abilities. While it may feel worrisome both to seniors and their loved ones, mild memory problems that don’t interfere with daily life aren’t usually a reason for concern. However, if the loss of memory starts to progress, researching care options outside of Independent Living may be required. This article will offer an overview of the connection between memory loss and cognitive decline to make it easier for loved ones to tell if they have genuine reasons to be worried.

Normal, Age-Appropriate Cognition

A little forgetfulness is normal in an aging brain. Seniors may occasionally forget to pay a bill, misplace an item, or have trouble finding the right word. Forgetting these kinds of things once in a while is normal, particularly as people age, as is taking longer to learn new activities or need to use additional tools such as calendars and task lists to manage daily life. Seniors in Independent Living residences often struggle with normal, age-appropriate memory problems, but nothing out of the norm for old adults. 

Memory and Dementia

While it’s important to know that some mild memory problems are normal, it’s equally important to recognize when cognitive issues should be considered a cause for concern. The key difference is that while normal, age-appropriate memory loss may cause some frustration on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t interfere with everyday tasks like driving, talking on the phone, paying bills, or finding the way home.

When in doubt about whether a new memory problem is a normal, benign sign of aging or a potential cause for concern, the best thing to do is to schedule an appointment with a doctor. A senior’s primary care physician or geriatrician will usually refer them to a specialized neuropsychiatrist who specializes in diagnosing and treating dementia.

Senior Memory Loss

Causes of Memory Loss in Seniors

Even if someone truly is experiencing new, worsening memory loss, they shouldn’t automatically assume that it’s early-onset t dementia. In addition to the various forms of dementia, memory loss in seniors has many potential causes. They include:

  • Medication side effects
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Minor head trauma
  • Stress and depression
  • Alcohol use
  • Poor sleep
  • Other underlying health problems

A geriatric neurologist or neuropsychiatrist will be able to identify or rule out potential causes of memory loss in seniors. They’ll also be able to recommend senior lifestyle modifications that can make it easier to manage memory loss and other issues associated with mild cognitive impairment.

Types of Dementia That Can Cause Memory Loss

Dementia isn’t one specific disorder but rather a collection of conditions that cause progressive damage to the brain. All of them can cause memory loss alongside other worrisome symptoms, but each has a different cause and is treated differently. The most common types of dementia include the following.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common type of dementia. This disease causes cognitive symptoms as plaques and tangles build up in patients’ brains. The plaques are made up of beta-amyloid, a naturally occurring protein, while the tangles are made of tau protein. The clumps of proteins damage healthy neurons and other brain cells, causing physical damage.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the brain and is often the result of strokes. The most noticeable symptoms of this form of dementia tend to be loss of focus, problems with organization, slowed thinking, and diminished problem-solving abilities, while memory loss may also be present.

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of proteins found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewy body dementia. Common symptoms of this progressive form of dementia include not just memory issues but also visual hallucinations, acting out dreams while sleeping, problems with focus or attention, and movement disorders.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a group of brain diseases that are characterized by the breakdown of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Because these areas are associated with behavior, personality, and language, people with frontotemporal dementia often experience trouble with these aspects of their lives. They may undergo observable behavioral and personality changes or develop difficulties with good judgment, complex thought, and the normal use of language.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia combines factors from two or more of the problems described above. Studies are currently ongoing regarding how mixed dementia manifests itself in patients and how it can be managed.

Tips for Reducing Dementia Risk

While there’s no guarantee that someone will not get dementia, there are some ways for seniors to lower their risks. Moving to a senior living community, for example, can be a great way to minimize dementia risk because doing so makes it easy for seniors to follow all of the expert advice regarding risk reduction. Staying socially and intellectually engaged will minimize the risk of developing dementia but also slow the course of the disease once it manifests.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through participation in a senior wellness program can also help. Staying physically active and eating a healthy diet promote overall health, including brain health. Seniors who currently drink to excess, smoke cigarettes, or have other worrisome lifestyle risk factors should speak with their doctors about how they can quit now. Their dementia risk won’t be the only aspect of their health that benefits from giving up bad habits and replacing them with healthier ones.

Find a Supportive Community

Seniors who want to minimize their risk of developing dementia or find ways to manage age-related memory issues that are not related to a degenerative disease can benefit from finding a supportive community. We can help them do just that. Chelsea Senior Living takes an innovative approach to senior housing, offering a range of communities across New Jersey and New York that meet different sets of needs, which can change as people continue to age. Seniors and their loved ones can learn about our communities and programs now.