SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Memory loss natural, but may be prevented

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Many medical professionals agree that some memory loss is a common part of the aging process. If you have you ever had difficulty recalling people, objects, places or events, you have experienced memory loss. It is only when memory loss affects an individual's ability to perform normal, daily functions that one should be concerned.

To understand memory loss, it is helpful to understand how the brain stores information. In general, memory is stored in short-or long-term memory. Short-term memory stores events or details that have been experienced only moments before. This might include names of people you have just met or phone numbers you just memorized. Many older adults notice that they have problems with short-term memory.

Long-term memory refers to memories of events that have taken place in the distant past. Events in the long-term memory have to be stored in short-term memory first, and through permanent changes in the brain, the memories are transferred.

Through the aging process, the brain changes the way it produces important brain chemicals, and information is stored differently. Aging may affect memory retention by decreasing your problem solving abilities, cause difficulty paying attention and making you need more cues to recall memories.

Experiencing these symptoms is not necessarily cause for alarm. Many individuals hastily assume that any form of memory loss is a sign of dementia, which is a significant, progressive and permanent loss of memory.

There are actually many different types of dementia, although the most well known disease is Alzheimer's. Symptoms may include impairments in thinking, learning, memory and judgment and changes in personality, mood and behavior. Only 5-8 percent of people over 65 are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, but if you have any concerns talk with your doctor.

Some causes of memory loss are not related to aging or dementia. These are often called reversible causes of memory loss because with proper medical attention or a change in lifestyle, memory can be improved.

Reversible causes may affect individuals of any age. Stress, sleep disorders, metabolic disease, alcoholism and vitamin B12 deficiency have been linked to memory loss.

If you suspect that any of these factors may be affecting your memory, contact your medical or mental health professional.

There are simple ways to prevent memory loss or the effects of aging.

The Mayo Clinic has identified several steps to help keep your memory sharp.

First, exercise your mind. Some ways to challenge your mind include: Learn to play a musical instrument, play games like Scrabble, Sudoku or do crossword puzzles, interact and socialize with others, learn a new hobby, volunteer, stay informed about current events and read a wide variety of material.

Next, be active. Physical activity increases blood flow, which increases oxygen to the brain. A good exercise program will incorporate aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching. Before you begin an exercise program, be sure that you consult your doctor.

Third, eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. A diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides your body with antioxidants, which are substances that protect and nourish brain cells. Dehydration can make you tired and will cause you to have problems concentrating. Another way to keep your mind sharp is to use reminders and cues. Because you are required to retain and organize a lot information daily, writing list, establishing routines and practicing repetition are just a few ways to use reminders and cues.

Next, give yourself time to remember things. It's a lot easier to memorize something when you are able to give it your full attention and focus.

Additionally, stress and anxiety can interfere with your concentration, so it is important to learn how to relax. Regular exercise, yoga and meditation are common stress reduction and relaxation techniques.

Another way to keep your mind sharp is to be optimistic. Research has shown that a positive attitude can have very beneficial effects on many medical conditions. Happiness may make you more alert, and being alert opens your senses to help store memory. Sometimes side effects of a medication or interactions between medications may cause problems with your memory. Talk with your doctor about your experiences.

Furthermore, check your levels. Know your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Sometimes a change in these may affect your alertness or your ability to concentrate. Check to see if your thyroid gland is functioning properly as well.

Finally, keep your perspective. Some memory loss is normal, so don't panic if you can't remember where you placed your keys or can't think of that word you were looking for. You can't remember everything.

Christy Druffel received her bachelor of science degree from Oregon State University in exercise sport science and fitness program management She has been working for the YMCA for the last 15 years and is the Director of Healthy Living.

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