Dementia does not form part of the natural growing old process as it is caused by diseases of the brain and the most common being Alzheimer’s.
I think most people would believe that dementia is an older person’s illness, when in fact younger people in their 40’s and 50’s can also be affected. According to Alzheimer’s Society two thirds of people diagnosed are woman and one in three people over 65 will go on to develop dementia.
Most people under 65 have a reasonably high level of stress as part of their everyday life, which can have a dramatic effect on your health and the symptoms of stress can present similar to those of early onset Alzheimer’s, one of the symptoms being memory loss. For younger people getting an accurate diagnosis can be a long and frustrating process.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia affects everyone differently but some of the symptoms could be if you:
- struggle to remember recent events, although you can easily recall things that happened in the past
- find it hard to follow conversations or TV programmes
- forget the names of family, friends or objects around the house
- cannot recall things you have heard, seen or read
- notice that you repeat yourself or lose the thread of what you are saying
- have problems thinking and reasoning
- feel anxious, depressed or angry about your forgetfulness
- find that other people start to comment on your forgetfulness
- feel confused even when in a familiar environment
Memory loss & ageing
I’m nearly 45 and there are days when I have constant forgetfulness for example, I can’t remember people’s names, what I went upstairs for and sometimes I just sit here with empty thoughts trying to remember what I was supposed to be thinking about.
We rely on using our memory for everything from remembering people, places, conversations to conducting our everyday routines and domestic arrangements, as well as participating in family, social and work activities.
A certain degree of forgetfulness is acceptable as part of the normal ageing process and can happen at any age, but we often become more worried about our memory loss as we get older. It’s normal to notice a gradual decline in memory that can cause us to become slightly forgetful and perhaps confused at times and maybe it’s not due to a medical condition but just daily life instead.
Causes of memory loss
When there is a progressive decline in memory and other brain functions, this can eventually lead to dementia and the main cause of significant memory loss is due to Alzheimer’s disease. However it is important not to jump to conclusions because a wide variety of medical conditions can be associated with memory loss including mental health problems, stress and surprisingly the menopause.
I think stress has a large part to play with my memory loss. Living with and caring for a young adult with severe learning difficulties, working nearly full time hours in a busy demanding job and not getting any younger are all contributing factors.
To make sure I don’t forget anything each day I have developed routines for everything without even realising it. My husband pointed out to me recently that I make the packed lunches at the same time every evening, bath time, bed time and college bag all done at same times, even down to knowing where I have to be on the roads at certain times of the day to avoid getting stuck at train crossings. Maybe this is just normal behaviour for a working mum but I do find that if I don’t stick to my routines I can easily forget things.
Poor sleep routines can also have an impact on your memory. If you find yourself going to bed much earlier than normal, waking earlier, sleeping during the day and being wide awake for most of the night, these changes in habit will all contribute to a possible memory loss. Some of my forgetfulness is due to tiredness as I wake in the night thinking of things that I haven’t done and then I can’t get back to sleep because my mind won’t settle. I have decided that lists of ‘things to do’ are the way forward but then the problem is remembering you have started a list and putting things on it.
What you can do to help yourself
Most people may think memory loss in aging is inevitable but this is not always the case as the brain is like a muscle and you have to use it to keep it fit. Crosswords, puzzles and intellectual challenges will help with your mental activity and lifestyle choices also play a very important role in the health of your body and mind:
Adjusting your lifestyle could reduce the effects of age-related memory loss and from future decline.
- Stress reduction – find the right balance between work, rest and play, set realistic daily expectations and take regular relaxation breaks.
- Healthy diets – choose water to drink rather than fizzy drinks, eat low fat foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables. Avoid fried foods and take the antioxidant vitamins E and C.
- Exercise – take part in regular physical exercise, an aerobic workout like cycling or walking is great for de-stressing but try and choose activities with a low risk for head injuries.
- Reduce – the amount of alcohol you consume and try and stop smoking.
My closing thoughts are: if you know a person with dementia and they are finding their mental abilities are declining, they may feel very vulnerable and in need of reassurance and support.
Family and friends will need to try and do everything they can to help the person retain their sense of identity, feelings of self-worth, memories from the past and events taking place in the future otherwise the battle against dementia could be very lonely and frightening.
If you are taking part in a Memory Walk and raising funds for research and support for people with dementia or you need further information about this condition which can be found on the Purple Angel website, we can all make a difference in raising awareness and leading the fight against dementia.