Loss of memory is one of the things most associated with aging – the idea of a “senior moment” has come to mean a brief failure of recall.
But memory loss, while common, can be mitigated by taking care of both mind and body, according to doctors and experts in dementia.
Brains need exercise just like bodies do, said Kim McKercher, the provincial coordinator for program development for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
“Every day if you can, you want to try a new experience,” she said.
“It can be as simple as dialling a phone with your non-dominant hand,” she said, all the way up to learning a new language. Whatever keeps your brain working hard helps keep it agile and strong, and slows or prevents memory loss.
Things that keep your heart healthy also keep your brain healthy, McKercher added. That includes eating a diet rich in green vegetables and heart-healthy products.
“Make sure that we’re eating more than carbs,” she said.
Getting regular physical activity is also a must.
“That can be as simple as going for a walk, 20 to 30 minutes a day,” she said, reiterating that whatever is good for your heart is also good for your brain.
Heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are considered risk factor for dementia, said McKercher.
“We encourage people to stay connected.”
Regular interactions with other people helps reduce the risk of dementia, she said.
A recent article by SFU researchers, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging and Neuroscience, found that even mild physical activity and learning can help protect seniors memory.
Learning to paint or taking up music can help improve memory and delay the onset of memory loss and dementia.
Although Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss caused by dementia can be mitigated, it cannot be entirely prevented, McKercher noted.
That is one of the reasons why early detection is vital, she said.
It’s normal to occasionally forget things at any age, and that does become more frequent as we get older, she noted. But dementia goes beyond that, and signs can include changes in mood, depression, struggling to complete familiar tasks such as favourite recipes or card games, and sudden disorientation in well-known locations.
There can also be personality changes, paranoia, and suspicion.
“We really encourage anyone who is concerned to talk to their family doctor,” McKercher said.
It takes a little time to diagnose dementia or memory loss, but it is not always Alzheimer’s or serious memory loss – it could be an underlying medical cause that is treatable.
“There’s a number of benefits to early diagnosis,” McKercher elaborated.
There are several medications that can help mitigate some symptoms and, to some extent, slow the progress of dementia. There are also supports for people living with memory loss and dementia, even to stay in their homes longer.
“A dementia diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of a meaningful life,” McKercher said.
In recent years, Langley saw the opening of The Village memory care project, a care home designed for people with memory loss. It’s based on the idea of giving residents a safe place to roam and shop for groceries, living in small “familial groups” together.