Memory Loss and Who It Effects
Experiencing memory Loss can be a frightening and disorientating experience for the many people it affects. This week the Daily Mail online reported that, according to recent research, losing your memory as you get older may be reversible. Scientists say that they have identified neurons which damage the ability to form medium-term memories when not functioning properly. They say that by stimulating these neurons, a person’s memory may be restored. There are many different kinds of memory loss problems that a person can experience- it can be partial or total, and it is normal in older people (70 and older). Sudden memory loss can be caused by a brain trauma, a stroke, epilepsy, extreme mental illness, meningitis or alcoholism and may be permanent or temporary. When caused by medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, the memory loss is gradual and tends to be permanent.
People often assume Alzheimer’s and Dementia are the same thing however Alzheimer’s is a specific disease while dementia is an umbrella term for a series of symptoms. The issue of Memory Loss has also being on our screens in recent weeks with a number of ads about memory loss being currently shown on Irish television. The one below is a particularly good advert because it does not focus just on older people (as many of the other ads do) and encourages younger people (people in there forties) to be aware of the signs of memory loss too. However, it is usually the case that the older a person gets, the more likely he/she is to get Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
To find out more about memory loss and it’s causes, Health in the Media spoke with Dr. Kate Irving who works at Memory Works, a screening clinic aimed at identifying people with a pathological reason for their memory problems and those who do not.
Who should get in touch with Memory Works?
People over the age of 40 who are concerned about their memory. I am trying to open a space where people can talk about their memory problems without feeling like they are wasting my time, making a fuss or feeling embarrased or afraid. Lots of people get memory problems for a range of different reasons – it doesn’t mean it has to be the start of a serious problem it may be reversable at least to some extent.
Do you get many younger people coming to you with memory loss problems?
A few but the average age of the people I see is about 70. I have seen people younger than 40 if there are specific circumstances such as a head injury or epilepsy. The service is aimed at people over 40 because I am trying to catch the large proportion of people who have the early signs of dementia and currently don’t get a diagnosis until its too late for them to be involved in active decision making. Also mid life is a good time to target cognitive wellbeing for cognitive health in later life.
How do determine if someone has a memory loss problem?
First of all if they are concerned they have a problem – there is nobody who comes to me who doesn’t have any problem. Then I have to determine if the nature of the problem is best explained by stress, a mood problem, low levels of cognitive stimulation, a physical problem. If the memory problem is not best explained by one of these factors I have to look at their level of functioning and any evidence of deterioration over time. I do this by some objective memory testing, by the history they give and sometimes by reports from family members or GP’s.
What are causes of memory loss?
Poor congitive functioning in older age is roughly 50% genetic and 50% lifestyle. The main lifestyle factors that put you at very high risk of poor cognitive health are, being overweight, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, poor diet, high alcohol intake, low levels of exercise and low congitive stimulation. Each risk factor is roughly additive and if you have about 7 of them the correlation with cognitive problems is almost as strong as smoking and lung disease.
Are there ways of preventing or slowing down memory loss?
Well obviously all of the above factors with the exception perhaps of depression are avoidable. Its not that straight forward however as just as people know smoking is bad for them they often don’t change their behaviours. The message I’m trying to push is try to avoid the situation where you have all of these risk factors occuring at once. Also I should mention that these things do not actively prevent dementia but they put you in a lower risk category. This is important because for people who have dementia – this is not a blame game. Some people get dementia who have not had any of these risky lifestyles – just like some people get cancer even though they don’t smoke. We understand something of the genetics of dementia but not enough. In terms of slowing down memory problems, all the lifestyle factors seem to help people live better with dementia. There are several drugs on the market which work moderately well for about a third of people who try them.
To contact Memory Works call Lorna or Muriel on 7007985
The effects of Dementia and Alzheimer’s can have on the family of the sufferer can be devastating. Because of what can sometimes be a role reversal (the child taking care of the parent) each member of the family can experience grief and loss over the situation. Some people may feel anger or resentment while others can live in denial of the situation. Below is a video of Joe English and his wife April who are coping with Joe’s Alzheimer’s in a positive way.