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Cognitive Decline in the Elderly

Senior moments! If you’re over 50, you’ve had your share. Standing there in front of what’s his name asking how his wife and family are, trying to gain some time and hoping some memory recall will kick in before he realizes you don’t know his name. You worked in the same department with him for years before you retired just two years ago and could even recall where he lived and a story he told you about how he spent one summer in Mexico. But something as simple as his name eludes you. What robs us of these bits of information at certain times only to pop up later when we have no real need for them?

As frightening as these moments may seem under certain circumstances, they are not unusual at all for people who become part of the AARP crowd. Add a stressful day and perhaps a poor night’s sleep and brief memory loss is inevitable on occasions. What is disturbing about them though is that they will increase with age and depending on their severity, may be signaling the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

Some types of senior moments even have a name – literal paraphasia. It sounds impressive and kind of softens the blow for displaying a momentary weakness on our part. This condition occurs when we get phonemes (normal sounds) crossed up where they come out different than we intended. “I docked the wog” may come out of your mouth when you meant to say, “I walked the dog”

There appears to be no clear answer as to what exactly creates these glitches in memory. Neurological scientists who study this phenomenon feel it’s the result of a decrease in neurotransmitters, a smaller brain caused by poor blood circulation due to aging or a combination of the two. Recent research out of UC Irvine, offers a new possibility where advanced technology now allows neurologists to look deep into the brain and view the slow deterioration of a long-hidden part of the brain called the perforant path. According to a recent article in Science Daily it’s “believed to deteriorate gradually as part of normal aging and far more quickly due to Alzheimer’s disease.” (Distinguishing ‘Senior Moments’ from Alzheimer’s, 8/10/10)

Talk to your physician about these moments so they can determine their severity and what, if any, steps you should be taken. As we reach later years in life our brains have retained an infinite amount of knowledge and sensory overload begins to take its toll. Multi-tasking is thought by many to alleviate this problem at work but it is not all that people have claimed and often, less gets completed while creating greater stress. (Overwhelmed, Stressed Multitasking by Jerry Looper, 2/13/08)

Other factors that can contribute to the memory loss aspect of senior moments are:

– Nutritional deficiency. Not enough thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin B12 , and/or protein contributes to memory loss.

– Depression

– Chronic disease conditions

– Oxygen deprivation resulting from a severe head trauma, surgery, strokes, or heart attacks.

– Free-radical damage to the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that separates the circulating blood and the brain.

– Daily exposure to toxic chemicals such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.

– Low blood sugar levels

– Low estrogen levels in postmenopausal women (SOURCE)

New research is developing out of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York that has discovered a new target for Alzheimer’s and its effect on memory loss. Free floating pieces of amyloid beta protein called oligomers appear to be attacking the brain, damaging cells and causing memory loss, says Sam Gandy, M.D. of Mount Sinai who published his findings in the Annals of Neurology this last April. The uptick on research and its findings in this area is encouraging. “Several drugs in early stages of development are aimed at oligomer production” according to a recent article in the AARP Bulletin by Elizabeth Agnvall, “but … it will be at least a year before we can expect to see results.”

Though senior moments are not necessarily a “clear and present danger” they are red flags for those who draw close to retirement age. What causes them may be beyond your control but the ability to off-set them and slow them down before they become more serious memory loss conditions are not. Stay active and exercise; not only with your body but your mind as well each day to enhance the brain’s ability for recall. It could prevent another embarrassing “what’s his name” situation for you.


Overwhelmed, Stressed Multitasking

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