The many facets of memory loss


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 3:05 p.m.
Sometimes we confuse memory loss with what I believe is our lack of attention to details.
More often than not, an inability to recall where the car keys are, for example, may not be due to memory loss. We must first establish a memory by paying attention to what we are doing so that our brain has information to recall.
Do you remember being one of those people who could remember long lists, directions to the stadium, the birthdays, and a lot of trivia? It would be easy to blame this lack of memory on old age. But this is not so, as young adults are showing symptoms as well. These busy, smart, educated, energetic young adults are suffering, along with a lot of us, from what I like to refer to as sensory overload. We have no down time.
Think about it, most of us have a home phone with an answering machine, a cell phone (another answering machine) that we talk on in the car and at the doctor's office and in the gym and grocery store.
We don't just keep an appointment or just go to church. We have to multi-task talk on the cell while we are in church, board meetings, restaurants, on bikes and at the bus stop.
Of course the cell phone also functions as a beeper, computer, television, camera and text message machine. If that is not enough, some of us spend hours online talking in chat rooms as well.
You get my point.
Information storage happens in different parts of our memory. The short-term memory may include the name of a person you met moments ago.
Information stored in the recent memory may include what you ate for breakfast hours before. Information in the remote memory includes things that you stored in your memory years ago, as memories of childhood.
The familydoctor.org Web site explains the loss of memory on its page, ''Memory Loss With Aging: What's Normal, What's Not.''
First of all, it is their contention that memory loss may be attributed to aging, depression, Alzheimer's and other illnesses, dementia, side effects of drugs, strokes, a head injury and alcoholism.
Aging of the brain is attributed to the fact that at age 20, the body begins to lose brain cells a few at a time. Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work. The older you are, the more these changes can affect your memory. During aging, your brain loses its ability to store information and its becomes less able to recall previously stored information.
Short-term memory and remote memory aren't usually affected by aging. Recent memory may be affected. Such things as forgetting names of people you met recently is an example of this phenomena. The things that aren't a part of normal aging are:
  • Forgetting things much more often than you used to.
  • Forgetting how to do things you've done many times before.
  • Difficulty learning new things.
  • Repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation.
  • Trouble making choices or handling money.
  • Not being able to keep track of what happens each day.
    Pay attention to what you are doing. If you multi-task, take the time to tell yourself what it is you want to remember later. Keep lists, follow a routine, make associations, keep a detailed calendar, put important items in the same place every time, repeat names when you meet new people, do things that keep your mind and body busy.
    Memory loss may indicate the presence of a serious condition. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are having memory loss. The best advice to follow in terms of what is best for you should come from the person who provides your health care.
    Alzheimer's disease probably is the disease we associate most with the loss of memory. This complicated illness is not to be taken lightly. There are more than 1 million people in Florida with this illness.
    If you need more information, you can make contact with the Alzheimer's association at www.alz.org , or call the national office at (800) 272-3900.
    Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, FL 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to news@gvilleguardian.com.
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