What Factors Affect Memory Loss?

There are several factors that influence how well or how poorly our memories function. It is important to recognize that many memory changes are caused by temporary and treatable conditions that may require medical attention.

  • Attitude – our attitudes about memory changes are important. Becoming upset and anxious when we forget things creates more anxiety and interferes with our memory process. If you convince yourself that you have a poor memory, it is unlikely that you will use helpful strategies to try to improve your memory.
  • Disuse – many memory problems are related to inactivity. If you are not active, there will be fewer demands on your memory so it becomes lazy or “rusty”.
  • Illness – chronic illnesses can lead to social isolation, and disuse of memory. With your health as your major concern, you may not concentrate on other aspects of life and become forgetful. Even temporary illnesses can cause temporary
    memory loss.
  • Sensory Problems – vision and hearing problems decrease your ability to receive information, which is the first step of the memory process. Talk to your physician about corrective devices (glasses, hearing aids).
  • Medications – some side effects or combinations of drugs can cause memory loss. Discuss memory changes with your physician. Altering medications often helps. Studies are continuing as to the effect of estrogen on cognitive functions.
    Also, a popular herb called Ginkgo Biloba has been touted as a memory-booster and there are some studies that indicate that this herb may enhance memory and alertness. However, it is important that you discuss taking any herbs with your physician.
  • Alcohol – excessive alcohol use affects your thinking and memory processes. Long-term alcoholism can cause serious memory impairment.
  • Diet – poor nutrition can affect memory. Everyone needs a well balanced diet to keep brain cells sharp.
  • Depression – being depressed can cause your thinking to slow down and affect your ability to concentrate. Depression may cause withdrawal and disinterest and this can impair your memory. Severe depression and other emotional problems are often mistaken for dementia. Feeling sad, lonely, or bored is more common in older people who are facing retirement, health problems, and deaths of friends or loved ones. Adapting to major changes can leave people feeling confused, depressed, and forgetful. Emotional problems can be helped by health professionals.
  • Grief – is often a temporary cause of memory loss. As grief subsides, memory functions usually return to normal.

What Is a Memory Assessment?

A memory assessment is a psychological test that measures your memory function. If you are concerned that you are having problems with your memory and improvement strategies are not helping, you may want to discuss this with your physician. Identification of memory problems is important in order to determine if memory loss is in the normal range or if a medical problem is present. Keep in mind that everyone has lapses in memory now and then and practicing some of the self-improvement strategies should help. Avoiding stress and improving your listening skills will go a long way toward helping you have a better memory.

How Can I Improve My Memory?

  • Reduce Anxiety – relax and be patient with yourself. Try not to be self-critical and fearful of forgetting. Relaxing, through deep breathing, yoga or other relaxation techniques, will improve your attention span and ability to recall.
    • Be self-confident — stop complaining about your memory and avoid people who do. Pat yourself on the back when you remember things.
    • Be honest if you can’t remember — minimize memory loss to others. “It’s so nice to see you again but your name has slipped my mind”.
  • Choose What to Remember / What to Forget – be selective about what is important to remember and what is not. Being
    selective will avoid memory over-load.
  • Strengthen Memory Skills – there are internal and external strategies for improving your memory:

    Internal strategies are exercises that you can do mentally:

    • Make up rhymes (30 days hath September).
    • Compose mental pictures, visualize images.
    • Improve your listening skills, pay attention.
    • Read materials out loud, repeat several times – repetition is helpful.
    • Use memories to trigger other memories – reminisce with someone, look at photo albums.
    • Relax – relaxation will clear your mind of clutter.
    • Keep your mind active, exercise your brain by reading, playing chess, doing crossword puzzles, etc.

    External strategies use environmental cues to help you remember:

    • Organize your life. Put keys, glasses in the same designated place, and get rid of clutter.
    • Reduce noise and background distractions as much as possible.
    • Keep a datebook or calendar.
    • Use helpful devices such as cooking timers, alarm clocks, etc.
    • Keep lists! Writing things down is the best way to reinforce memory.
    • Keep your lists by the door, in your car.
    • Be physically active. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain which enhances the mind and also helps to reduce
      stress and anxiety.
    • Take care of your health and eat nutritious meals.

A Note About Medications

Many people, especially seniors, need to take several medications daily. There is a lot to remember in order to take medications properly and safely. Organizing a chart system will help you to remember what medications need to be taken at a specific time, and directions on how to take them. Ask your pharmacist for information regarding specific medications and/or your physician.

This article originally appeared in a Blue Cross/Blue Shield newsletter. Reprinted here with permission.