Forgetting Things? It May Not Be Alzheimer’s

From the laughable “senior moment” of “why did I come into this room?” to seriously forgetting pertinent information — memory loss is a worry of many people as they age.

But before making a quick connection to Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating condition that affects 5.4 million people in the United States, first rule out other reasons for memory loss. The folks at recently listed some of the other more common causes of forgetting things — including what we eat and drink and the lifestyle choices we make. This list is worth reviewing.

1.) Medications. Over 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs and over 50 percent of us take more than one. Drug interaction can have unforeseen effect on brain chemistry, focus, and memory.

Many newer drugs haven't been in the marketplace long enough to document how they interact with other drugs, and side effects can emerge after years in the marketplace. In addition, drugs affect different people differently. It's recommended that anyone introducing a new drug or changing dosage be vigilant for changes, both physical and mental.

Unfortunately, over half of Americans live in chronic stress on an ongoing basis, which affects the formation of brain cells called neurons.

2.) Excessive alcohol intake. Brain shrinkage in the frontal lobe is just as common with excessive drinking as kidney and liver disease. The frontal lobe is in charge of higher intellectual functioning; an alcohol-induced dementia called Korsakoff syndrome can result from excessive drinking.

Memory issues aren't just connected to "blackout" periods while drunk, but can have an affect on everyday memories. Interaction with prescription drugs is suspect, too. Many combinations of drugs and alcohol impair memory.

3.) Thyroid problems. Thyroid function, which regulates metabolism, can be too low (hypothyroidism) or too high (hyperthyroidism). The brain is affected by metabolism and cognitive problems, and like memory loss, they're a warning sign of thyroid disease.

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4.) Stress. Stress hormones such as cortisol are important drivers of action in the body. For instance, when we face imminent death — say we nearly escape a serious car accident — the body lights up with an influx of hormones allowing us to run fast (the flight part of "fight or flight"). Consistently straining our attention system drains memory, too, notes Stress hormones were meant for very short-term use. They impact the body negatively through raised blood pressure, heart rate, and lack of blood flow to the brain while the blood flows to the extremities for that dash to safety.

Unfortunately, more than half of Americans experience chronic stress on an ongoing basis, affecting the formation of brain cells called neurons. Chronically stressed people report mental fatigue, an inability to make decisions, confusion, less sleep, and lack of attention due to constant multitasking. These situations also drain the brain's ability to remember.

5.) Depression. Much like stress, depression has an impact on the brain through chemical imbalance. In the case of depression, low serotonin causes the impact. Depression often prevents people from being in the now, since those affected can worry about the past, focusing on sad events. That precludes making plans in the present moment, taking action and making memories.

6.) Physical trauma. Whereas most memory issues begin slowly, a traumatic event such as a car accident or brain injury can cause immediate change in memory. Whenever brain tissue and the skull collide, such as during violence or an accident, there can be internal bleeding and other unseen damage to the brain.

7. Hormonal shifts for women. Although the key occurrences here are pregnancy and menopause, there is a wide range of change in a woman's hormone panel throughout life. Since estrogen rates may change, and it interacts with brain chemicals, many different symptoms and issues can occur, including memory loss.

Pregnancy can be filled with intense emotions like expectation and physical distractions like morning sickness. Menopause can bring midlife stress and hot flashes. These distractions leave little bandwidth for storing new material and information.

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8.) Maybe it's simply age. A certain level of forgetfulness is common with age, due to brain decline — but this is quite different than dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It's important to notice memory lapses, and the rate of occurrence, in parents and older relatives. Alzheimer's symptoms include not making new memories and forgetting simple common tasks, such as how to use the telephone or where to put the milk.

Discerning the cause of memory loss is vital in order to address it. Many memory issues, especially those caused by lifestyle choices, can be reversed with easy changes.

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.

Last Modified: March 6, 2017, 9:52 am

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