April 12, 2011

CANADA: "Am I losing my mind?"

LETHBRIDGE, Alberta / The Lethbridge Herald / News / April 12, 2011

By Caroline Zentner, Lethbridge Herald

The human brain can't remember everything but people are usually in middle age before they really notice what they're forgetting. And typically they start worrying whether their memory loss is normal or a sign of something more serious.

Sandra Gordon and Joyce Woods, nursing professors at Mount Royal University, will provide some answers tonight during a presentation called 'Am I Losing My Mind?' at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization.

"We all have to forget in our daily living," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "We can't keep every bit of information that happens to us. There's been lots of research about this; there's these anomalies where people remember everything and they actually can't make decisions."

The human brain can only handle so many things at once and extra information will drop off. That's normal forgetting.

In normal aging, the ability to use crystallized intelligence, consisting of knowledge and experience gained throughout life, remains the same. But the fluidity of thinking tends to slow down and that affects thinking in the moment or problem-solving in the moment.

"As we get older, sometimes we are aware we aren't able to do as many things as we thought we could do or we can't keep track of as much and we think we're having memory loss. But we may not be," Gordon said.

She advises people not to go online to try and assess their memory. Assessing true memory loss is best done by professionals and the first step should be to see a family doctor.

One of the key areas professionals assess is memory loss in relation to a person's functioning. Memory loss could be serious if one's ability to drive, take care of the house and interact with friends is affected.

"Those can be subtle at first but over time, if it's a true Alzheimer's type dementia, that will gradually begin to increase and you then see a shift in function. So memory loss in itself isn't enough," she said.

While much is unknown about the causes of dementia, research shows a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, good nutrition, socialization and continued learning can help protect the brain.

"We see more dementia in isolated, depressed individuals than we see in engaged individuals. As people age it's important for them to stay active and take care of themselves but probably most important is social engagement," Gordon said.

The body of knowledge regarding dementia grows constantly as more research is being funded because of population aging, she said. The first of the baby boomers in North America have retired and the world's population is aging too. And as people age, the risk of getting dementia increases.

"If you're looking at an aging population and you've got those numbers, it's really important for us to get a handle on this," Gordon said

Caroline Zentnerhas been a part of The Herald team since 2000 and covers education matters, both primary, secondary and post-secondary.

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