Can’t find your keys? Not sure where you put your glasses? Most people have been there — occasional memory lapses are normal. But memory loss that affects your senior loved one’s quality of life and their ability to live independently may be a sign of a serious medical condition. It can be terrifying to imagine that your aging parent someday might not remember who you are or could forget cherished moments you shared together.
Age, genetics, and other factors can increase someone’s risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But research shows that certain steps can help lower the risk of memory loss associated with these cognitive conditions. Read on to learn how simple lifestyle changes can help prevent memory loss and improve memory.
What causes memory loss?
Many things can cause memory loss. Age is a key factor, as the normal aging process causes a slight decline in brain function. With age, connections between brain cells that store and transfer information are weakened, affecting memory.
Cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are progressive conditions that cause severe memory loss over time. Many factors can increase your loved one’s risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s, including age, family history, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.
About 10% of people who have a stroke and nearly one-third of those who have a second stroke develop dementia. Heart disease and fat buildup in the arteries also contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.
Other causes of temporary memory loss in elderly adults may include medications, infections, vitamin B-12 deficiency, depression, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Memory loss: What’s normal?
Occasional forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. Examples of memory loss that comes with age include forgetting to pay a bill one month or not remembering what day it is. However, memory loss that affects your ability to do everyday activities can be a sign of a serious problem.
Signs of memory problems in elderly adults that warrant a visit to the doctor may include:
- Asking repetitive questions
- Getting lost in places you know well
- Having trouble following directions or learning new things
- Being confused about people, time, and places
- Having difficulty following a conversation
8 tips to help prevent memory loss and improve memory
Staying mentally, physically, and socially active may lower the risk of memory loss, according to the National Institute on Aging. Although you can’t change your parent’s age or family history, you can encourage them to make lifestyle changes that may help prevent memory loss or improve memory.
- Stay physically active
Exercise helps lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke — all risk factors for cognitive and memory disorders. Encourage your parent to try low-impact exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or even a walk around the block to help improve blood flow to the brain and keep their mind sharp.
- Eat a healthy diet
A diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains can help your brain and heart health. Eating healthy can stave off conditions that contribute to cognitive decline, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Some healthy food groups that may have cognitive benefits include leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, lean poultry, beans, and olive oil.
- Keep your mind engaged
Reading, learning something new, doing crossword puzzles, or playing games can help keep the mind active. Stimulating the mind may help prevent memory loss by enhancing connections between cells in the brain that support memory.
- Control your blood pressure
High blood pressure is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Controlling blood pressure when it’s high can help lower your risk of memory-related conditions.
- Stay social
Social isolation in seniors can be both a symptom of and a risk factor for dementia. Staying connected with others helps lower stress and prevent depression, which can contribute to memory loss. Help prevent loneliness by encouraging your aging loved one to take up a hobby, seek volunteer opportunities, or join a club or religious community. Assisted living communities keep residents social and engaged by offering many opportunities for activities and outings that appeal to all lifestyles and tastes.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep helps your brain rest and restore. It also helps to consolidate your memories. Sleep problems over time have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If your loved one regularly has sleep problems, talk to the doctor about strategies to help improve sleep.
- Quit smoking
Smoking can lead to several long-term health problems, but did you know that people who smoke are also at increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s? Talk to your loved one’s doctor about how to help them quit smoking for improved overall health.
- Drink alcohol in moderation only
There’s some evidence that a glass of red wine a day may have beneficial effects in terms of reducing inflammation and even lowering the risk of memory disorders. However, drinking more than four drinks a day for men and more than three drinks a day for women is considered excessive, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If your loved one drinks alcohol, it’s important they do so in moderation.
Larson E.B. “Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.” https://www.uptodate.com/contents/risk-factors-for-cognitive-decline-and-dementia.
Merck Manual. “Memory loss.” https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/symptoms-of-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/memory-loss.
National Institute on Aging. “Brain health.” https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-health.