Memory, Aging, and the Brain
Most of us can relate to memory lapses: Trying to recall a name during a conversation, forgetting where we parked the car; leaving the grocery list at home and not being able to recall all four items on the list. Sometimes we even miss meetings or appointments, because they "just slipped our minds." These kinds of memory lapses can happen to anyone at any age, but our first reaction tends to be embarrassment as we get older. We fear they’re a sign of dementia, or loss of intellectual function due to age; we fear the very words ‘Alzheimers disease.'
In reality, when significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is not due to aging, but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness. It is definitely not an inevitable consequence of aging. While it is true that certain progressive conditions affecting cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease are associated with aging, for the most part our fleeting memory difficulties result from normal age-related changes in the brain that slow some cognitive processes.
Two-thirds of us will probably have age-related memory changes as we age. These changes are considered normal, but they can be quite frustrating when we need to learn new skills on and off the job, juggle work and family, or take on new responsibilities in the community. Hence, it is good news that the field of neuroscience has made tremendous progress in differentiating between age-related memory changes and more serious conditions caused by disease processes and brain injury. It is good to know that there are ways to preserve and enhance normal brain function as we age, and that we can even help slow the progression of such dementia’s as Alzheimer’s disease.
The most important thing for preserving and enhancing memory, is to engage in mental and physical activities that you find enjoyable enough to stick with, and challenging and interesting enough to hold your attention. It is essential that you do these activities on a regular basis over a long period of time. Remember: It’s the things you do each day that can make a difference.