Do you wonder when to Seek Help for Memory Loss?
Memory loss comes might start to come with age, but it doesn’t have to. But-what is considered “normal”? When to seek help for memory loss? When we mention brain health, we talk about a number of functions that often people don’t consider. We tend to lose concentration skills. We lose neural transmission speed (how fast we think and retrieve information) unless we take brain boosting supplements to speed things along. Brain cells are even lost each decade! In this article, I’ll identify actual memory issues and let you know the answer to ” when is memory loss a concern.”
Normal vs. Pathological Changes In Memory
Brain health-related memory issues are common within the “older” population, and the frequency of complaints about a problem with memory made to doctors increases with age. The average 50-year-old has 3 top questions: “How can I go without back pain?” “How can I lose this gut?” “How can I improve my memory?”
If you eat correctly, exercise, sleep and supplement “for your brain” you should not have any memory issues at all. Memory loss can, however, also be the result of a pathological condition such as Alzheimer’s disease.
We start accumulating the toxic brain substance called amyloid 20+ years before developing Alzheimer’s (but recent findings show we can prevent this!) A person with Alzheimer’s disease will sometimes not even notice their own memory issues when the disease is diagnosed, unfortunately. On a positive note, Alzheimer’s treatment is evolving fast so it is likely not a terminal diagnosis after all. More on that to come.
The process of distinguishing between normal and pathological changes is not always easy. An important difference is, contrary to pathological changes, changes due to the “normal aging process” (again implying that we’re talking about someone eating a typical American diet) don’t interfere with a person’s level of functioning.
What else causes diminished brain health leading to memory issues?
Other than aging, many factors can contribute to memory problems. These include depression, dementia, head injury, strokes, side effects of drugs or medications, and alcoholism. We are learning that “fatiguing illnesses” and neuro-degenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s), as well as metabolic diseases (diabetes, heart disease), are, in part, due to mitochondrial failure. Evidence supports mitochondrial failure in auto-immune diseases and even cancer!
Mitochondria are the energy factories in our cells that make ATP. When the process of ATP production and new mitochondrial formation is damaged, we see many diseases emerge including those just mentioned. Therapy now should always include ways to improve mitochondrial function, and this includes adequate supplementation for mitochondrial health. “Mitochondrial care” is not just a treatment; it’s a way to prevent diseases and slow aging. A nutritional ketogenic diet does the same. Both of these options boost memory as we age. So does intermittent fasting.
Keeping your brain in shape means eating brain-healthy foods (such as blueberries, walnuts, and even dark chocolate!) Brain health supplements are crucial as we age; and we’re discovering almost daily more data about what is optimal. We are truly learning exactly how to improve memory such that normal aging should not include cognitive loss. That’s right.
Commonly missed medical conditions
If you are losing memory, your first step is to make sure that your doctor isn’t missing something treatable. Make sure to “rule out” the most commonly missed medical conditions because they are truly very commonly missed. The two oft-missed conditions are B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a reversible cause of dementia, and if you are a vegetarian, you need supplemental B12. Low thyroid hormone levels can be confused with dementia and sometimes misdiagnosed due to improper testing. Proper tests used to assess the thyroid are Free T3, Free T4, TSH, reverse T3 and TPO antibodies.
Let’s touch on other common reversible causes of dementia presenting as a problem with memory. Many use Benadryl as a sleep aid, and that can do it. Add any “anti-cholinergic” drug to the list too. The most commonly used, after Benadryl, are drugs like Ditropan; used to treat urinary incontinence. Withdrawal from alcohol or drugs called benzodiazepines, which are anti-anxiety or sleep drugs, can also cause memory issues. Even long term use of these drugs affect memory.
Reactions to all sorts of drugs can cause a problem with memory. Synthetic, NOT bio-identical, estrogens are well known to be strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. So, check your estrogen prescription. Lastly, there is evidence hidden by the drug companies showing statin drugs impair memory, and you need cognitive support to stay on them.
Brain health experts such as myself insist that you get off the anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines as they are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s. We have natural ways to increase the brain chemical(s) you have in low amounts. One of the most popular stress-busting supplements for my patients and AWS consult clients is PharmaGABA.
Hormonal issues such as low testosterone in men or low progesterone in women can impair cognition. This is reversible. Brain disorders such as Parkinson’s or small, silent strokes can cause cognitive issues. Infectious diseases such as Lyme, AIDS or the rare mad cow disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob can cause them too. Brain tumors rarely “present” as memory issues.
What happens when you know a word but can’t recall it?
This is usually just a glitch in your memory. You’ll almost always remember the word with time. This may become more common as you age—if you are not doing “special brain things.” It’s just annoying—not serious. Other examples are walking into a room to get something and not remembering what the “something” was. Trigger your memory by walking out of the room and then back in. Other common thoughts are “Where did I put the keys?” or “Where did I park the car?” Indeed, these issues will all lessen if you follow the “fixes” below.
How to differentiate a concentration issue from a true memory issue
The more we age, the more things we seem to have “going on”; there are more distractions. We can have issues with concentration when we are young, but as we age we often mix the concentration difficulties with something stress-related, or we’re thinking about a “bajillion” things at the same time. Perhaps, we’re just absent-minded, as anyone can be at times.
The first scenario of walking into a room and forgetting why can be due to stress, or lack of sleep, or “aging” without brain healthy foods, exercise, or supplements. This would fall into “consolidation and storage” but might also fall into “concentration” because perhaps you walked into the room not concentrating on that particular task.
That is also generally why we forget where we put the keys, or if we used conditioner or not in the shower. Are you laughing? Have you done this? I sometimes fall so deep in thought during a shower that I confess I (on full brain supplementation, diet, exercise, etc.) to multi-conditioning!
Bottom line: If you can figure out if you are stressed or what I call “multi-thinking” when you did the “absent-minded professor” thing, it’s not a problem.
How can I tell if my brain health is truly deteriorating?
A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living. If you sometimes forget names, you’re probably fine. However, you may have a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do things you’ve done many times before; getting to a place you’ve been too often; or doing things that use steps, like following a recipe.
New findings show that short term memory loss which is recurrent might be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. If you have any doubt, get yourself to a Neurologist for testing. A4M and other Integrative brain specialists can reverse mild cognitive impairment (more to come) and can stabilize early to moderate Alzheimer’s. We can’t cure it, but we can stabilize it and reverse some of the damage following the UCLA protocol published by Dr. Dale Bredesen. Just contact me if you would like to chat. You also might be one of the 10% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who actually have a mold-toxin issue-that’s right!
Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is that normal memory loss doesn’t get much worse over time. Dementia gets much worse over several months to several years. It may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem.
Again, talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. Your doctor should go through the list of things that could cause any significant brain health issues which you may not be unaware of or are forgetting. He/she can run blood tests and even give you a “memory test.”
When is Memory Loss a Concern Prompting Medical Evaluation?
Amnesia (“memory loss”) is not a part of the normal aging process. While it may take longer to learn new information (e.g. names of people or places) or to recall learned information (e.g. names of people you met at a party the night before), this is a decidedly different phenomenon.
Some people are more forgetful than others. However, health conditions (e.g. depression, heart disease, thyroid disease, vitamin deficiencies) or medication effects may be the culprit. Memory loss is notably abnormal in people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia (a loss of intellectual functions severe enough to interfere with everyday social or occupational functioning).
Mild cognitive impairment
Symptoms: Important memory impairments which occur without loss of independent functioning. People with MCI experience forgetfulness and they struggle to perform self-care tasks (e.g. taking medications, paying bills) but are still able to do so without the direct help of another person. Note: This is now reversible in the hands of the right Specialist. Find one. You need an A4M M.D. who specializes in “the brain” as I do, or a good “Functional Medicine” Neurologist.
Since this diagnosis cannot be made on a website blog, let me just say that you must have all of the reversible causes of “dementia” ruled out. Again, this (unbelievably so) now includes having mycotoxin-producing mold in your home. You and your loved ones will be noticing a serious drop-off in your cognitive powers. This is when you need an evaluation-pronto. Don’t be afraid that you will be given what used to be a death sentence. Check out the latest findings from my colleagues who are all using modified Bredesen protocols (as I am) and I also work with “mold experts” to make sure that THAT population of people isn’t missed any longer. Get tested and get well. That’s my final advice.