Memory Series: Myths and Misconceptions about Memory Loss
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. You search the house up and down looking for your glasses – only to find them atop your head. Or you walk into a room and promptly forget why you decided to go in there. Or you’re talking to a friend and blank on a name, date or phrase you want to say. These things can happen to all of us, but when we reach a certain age, they take on a serious subtext. Do these senior moments mean we’re just getting older – or does it signify something much more serious?
When it comes to dealing with memory, memory issues and cognitive disease, myths and misconceptions abound. A lot of this is due to the fact that, until recently, diseases like Alzheimer’s have been widely misunderstood and have caused fear, incorrect treatment and even dangerous ideas to spread. Fortunately, memory issues have had the light shed on them over the past few decades, giving us more understanding about the causes of memory issues, how they can be managed and the different ways to minimize the risk of developing them.
We’ve put together some of the most common misconceptions about memory issues, as well as the truth that underlies them.
Myth 1: Memory loss is a normal part of aging.
This myth is a little bit misleading, because memory loss is normal as we get older – but significant memory issues are definitely not a normal part of aging. “Senior moments,” or minor lapses and changes happen as we get older because, well, our brains have a lot going on and we have a lot of information to process. So if you occasionally forget about an appointment, lose your keys or sometimes can’t find the right words, don’t get too worried – that’s completely normal. What isn’t normal, though, is regularly forgetting to do tasks (like paying bills), becoming lost in familiar places, becoming confused about what day or time of year it is or forgetting how to use common objects like the telephone, stove or microwave. When memory loss is affecting daily life and the ability to complete common tasks, that’s a cause for concern.
Myth 2: Significant memory loss automatically means you have Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia (which is a catch-all phrase for a variety of diseases that cause significant cognitive issues). When we or loved ones are experiencing significant memory issues, our minds may automatically leap to this reason. However, while Alzheimer’s disease is arguably one of the biggest causes of memory loss, it is not the only cause. There are many issues that can manifest as memory loss such as infections, medication interactions, vitamin deficiencies and even untreated depression. And even if the memory loss is caused by a form of dementia, it’s not always Alzheimer’s. It could be Lewy Body disease, vascular dementia (caused by strokes and other vascular issues) and Parkinson’s.
Myth 3: There’s no cure for memory issues, so there’s no point in seeing a doctor.
This is perhaps the most detrimental myth out there about memory issues. Yes, it’s true that there are no cures for Alzheimer’s disease and certain other forms of dementia. Yes, significant memory loss may not be reversible. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing a doctor can do. In fact, seeing a doctor as soon as symptoms are noticed can significantly help you or a loved one. A doctor will run tests to determine whether the memory issues are caused by something that’s treatable, like a UTI or a certain medication you may be taking. Even if it turns out that the issues are caused by a form of dementia, there are medications available that can help manage symptoms and side effects, and can also sometimes stabilize decline, for a time. However, the majority of these treatments are most effective in the early stages of cognitive decline, so it’s essential to take steps as soon as possible.
Memory issues are something we all will deal with in some form or another, but they aren’t necessarily life-changing. The important thing is to pay attention to your body, be patient with yourself and check in with your doctor as soon as you or a loved one notices something “off.” As research continues into cognitive issues, we anticipate that treatments will become more and more effective – meaning a happier, healthier lifestyle for all of us as we age.