Memory loss is common as we get older. Going to the grocery store and forgetting what you went there for. Trying to remember the name of an actor from your favorite movie. Even panicking because you have no idea where you left your keys.
These are experiences many people can relate to, especially once you reach your 50s.
But memory loss may be more than just a sign of aging. It can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. More than 55 million people worldwide live with the disease or another type of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Now is a great time to get checked, because early detection could make a major difference in how the disease progresses.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but doctors recommend medications like galantamine, rivastigmine and donepezil. They’re helpful, according to the National Institute on Aging, because they prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is important for memory and learning.
Put simply, the drugs help nerve cells communicate.
There are opportunities for everyone to observe Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Spreading the word about the importance of being tested for the disease as well as learning about the different types of dementia is something everyone should do.
And knowing the signs of Alzheimer’s can help you help others. The most obvious, of course, is memory loss — specifically about recent events. Difficulty completing tasks that were once part of your routine is another. And sometimes people’s personalities change, and they may become more aggressive, angry or hopeless.
Not being able to find the right word to express oneself is often another sign, as is an inability to do tasks that were once routine.
And while it might not seem related, it really is important to prevent and address hearing loss, even if it involves buying hearing aids. According to Johns Hopkins, hearing loss is estimated to account for 8 percent of dementia cases. Scientists believe hearing loss may actually be a cause of dementia. When you can’t hear, your brain works overtime as it strains to hear and fill in the gaps, which comes at the expense of other thinking and memory systems.
Researchers are also finding that hearing loss causes people to be less engaged. We can all think of a relative who sits in a corner and doesn’t participate at family functions, complaining they can’t hear what’s being said.
Don’t ignore them. It’s important for them to be socially engaged, because they need to remain intellectually stimulated in order to avoid dementia. A little patience and encouragement from those around them can go a long way.
If you do find out you have early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, don’t give up. Find ways to train your brain to fight the disease. Do crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku. Play chess, or even video games. Challenge yourself to learn new information or skills, like how to knit. Enroll in a class.
And for those who can still find their keys, reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia by getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and managing your blood sugar.
Looking for a way to make a difference? Help people with Alzheimer’s by volunteering. The Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center, in Westbury, often has volunteers helping at its day program. They act as companions, and help people with memory loss be creative in arts and crafts. It can be a very rewarding experience.
Until there is a cure for Alzheimer’s, it’s important to take care of yourself by being tested and helping those around you who may need that little push. And it’s important to take care of yourself, too.