The Long Slow Goodbye: Our Memory Loss Epidemic

At first, they forget a few of the smaller things – addresses and phone numbers and TV channels that can be looked up. Not a disaster. Age catches up with us all, and in your 60s, how are you supposed to remember everything when you’ve seen so much over the course of a lifetime?¸

Then, little by little, names begin to escape them. At first it’s the names of actors on TV; soon enough, it’s your name. You are at first hurt – but I’ve walked my whole life in their footsteps, you think to yourself.

Marie Ève Cloutier & Delphine Caubet   Files Health

Then you realize it’s not you.

There is something wrong with them.

As the sands of time run down, they cannot quite recall what day it is, or who that beloved family member sitting right next to them might be. You are greeted as gently and politely as they would greet any stranger.

You break down and cry

In saying this long slow goodbye to a loved one, you are not alone.

In an aging population, an estimated 1/3 of all seniors 65 and up will suffer from memory-sapping conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss among seniors is he new epidemic. Québec is one of the world’s oldest societies in terms of the age of its citizens. This dilemma will challenge the entire health care system for decades to come – not to mention families.

Memory loss disease is not restricted to the elderly. Alzheimers does strike younger people. But “the most important risk factor associated with memory loss is age,” says Dr. Faid Massoud, a geriatrician at Montreal’s CHUM (Centre hosiptalier de l’université de Montréal) and the Montreal’s Geriatric Institute. “And that’s a non-negotiable factor.” He made the comment at the first ever Café Alzheimer organized by the Montreal Alzheimer’s Society.

 Isn’t it normal for old people to lose memory power? Yes and no, says Dr. Massoud. He says it’s not standard to suffer “significant” memory loss as one ages. Normal aging naturally entails slowing reaction times, reduced powers of concentration, and shortened attention spans. We all experience a lesser capacity to handle multiple bits of information at the same time as we grow older. In other words, it’s easier at age 16 to read the newspaper and watch TV simultaneously than at age 65.

Losing track of your keys or forgetting where you parked is also normal for seniors, says Dr. Massoud.  However, “it’s important to keep track of the pace of memory loss.” Factors that can accelerate the process include medication and chronic ailments (heart problems, for example).

U.S. statistics show that in that country, the top 3 factors contributing to memory loss are depression, smoking and physical inactivity. “All of these factors can be eliminated by adopting good healthy living habits,” says Dr. Massoud.

As well, there are strategies we can adopt upon retirement to stave off the deterioration of brain functions. The brain needs to be worked to stay fit, just like any muscle. And the everyday hubbub of family life and other activities won’t necessarily be enough to make your neurons fire.

Here are some activities that have proven to promote memory power:

– Brain teasers, like crossword puzzles and sudokus;

– Educational TV shows, quiz shows, and cultural shows;

– Physical exercise, to get some oxygenated blood pumping through your brain;

– A healthy, balanced diet;

– Sufficient sleep;

– Debates with your friends and family, to get your brain revved and to test your ability to summon facts and opinions…

A recent UCLA-Gallup organization study reveals that practicing any 3 of a variety of healthy living habits (good diet, sports, meditation, not smoking, not drinking…) reduces the incidence of memory loss problems by 75%.

Put off the long, slow goodbye. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Exercise it.

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