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Physical and mental activity are key components of keeping memory strong in the elderly. (File Photo/MSU Ag Communications)

Battle memory trouble with routines, activity

MSU Extension Service

May is Older Americans Month …

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Many jokes are made about memory loss and aging, but finding ways to combat this inevitable mental decline is no laughing matter.

Experts say time is memory’s worst enemy, and the more time has passed since a memory was made, the less likely a person will be able to recall it. Memory distortion adds another twist, as minds remember things differently over time than when the events occurred.

While stress, depression, alcohol use, certain physical conditions, and legal or illegal drug use can worsen the problem, the culprit sometimes is simply age. However, memory problems can begin when people are still in their 20s or 30s.

David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said memory has three parts. Memories are formed when information is encoded or taken in. They are consolidated or stored in the brain and then retrieved when the information is recalled. Problems with memory can occur at all three stages.

“With normal aging, our bodies start to slow down, and we begin to lose small elements of function in different areas of the body. For instance, it is expected that one’s physical endurance will decrease,” Buys said. “Similarly, individuals’ memory may change, making it difficult to recall the names of people, places and other things.”

There are levels of memory difficulty ranging from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. Mild cognitive impairment means individuals have enough forgetfulness to be noticeable to other people. Lapses show up on tests of mental function but are not enough to interfere with daily life.

“Dementia is a condition of mental decline severe enough to disrupt daily life and is a term used to describe an overall disruption in daily life that affects core brain functions,” Buys said.

The many types of dementias represent failure in different parts of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by damaged or dying nerve cells in the brain. Vascular dementia occurs when clots block blood flow to parts of the brain, killing brain cells. Lewy Body dementia is caused by abnormal deposits of proteins that form inside nerve cells in the brain. Frontotemporal dementia is a rare disorder that primarily affects the front and sides of the brain. Some people have multiple forms of dementia.

“Some key things to look for include not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations, as well as not recognizing or knowing the names of family members,” Buys said. “Also, if you are forgetting things or events more frequently than normal or have a hard time finding words to say to complete your thought, this may indicate you should see your healthcare provider.

“When family members are in denial about their dementia, this could also be a sign that they need additional professional evaluation,” Buys said.

While memory problems cannot be prevented, they can be successfully battled.

“Keep your mind active with engaging activities, and continue learning about new things, even into older adulthood,” Buys said. “Be physically and socially active. Quit smoking. Lower your blood pressure. Maintain a healthy diet.

“These are generally the same recommendations we give to people to prevent and manage chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, so the good news is that if you are working to prevent decline in one area, you’re likely going to prevent it in another,” he said.

Latoya Evans, a family and consumer sciences Extension agent in Lincoln County, is promoting these very steps with seniors she works with weekly in Brookhaven.

“Once a month, we do an educational program with the seniors,” Evans said. “To keep them informed of events happening among seniors, we do financial literacy programs and talk about how to avoid scams. We also talk about nutrition.”

Daily activities include bingo to exercise the mind and exercise classes and several different line dances to exercise the body.

“I’ve observed that those who are physically active are mentally sharper,” Evans said.

In Lamar County, Extension family and consumer sciences agent Liz Sadler uses similar programs to help seniors stay physically and mentally fit.

“Regular exercise, intellectual stimulation and social interaction are essential in keeping our brains fit as we age,” Sadler said. “It’s important to find community and social activities to participate in, along with regular exercise.”

She said brains are capable of learning and retaining new skills and facts throughout a person’s life. Preventing memory loss is a “use it or lose it” proposition. She recommended making changes to everyday schedules to help reduce problems from memory loss.

“Make a to-do list, keep a calendar, and maintain a routine such as fixed times for taking medications and completing personal hygiene tasks,” Sadler said. “Keep everything in its place, get plenty of rest, and, as much as possible, reduce stress in your life.”

Released: May 15, 2015
Contacts: Dr. David Buys
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