Memory Loss and Screening Tests for Memory Problems - Memory Loss Detection
By J. Wesson Ashford, M.D., Ph. D.
Understanding memory loss requires to understand what memory is. Memory is a fundamental process of the brain. Memory exists from the time that the first connections are formed between brain cells (neurons) and the first patterns of connections are established. Constantly throughout life, the neurons are forming new connections and new patterns of interactions, putting the old memories into long-term storage and forming the basis for our new memories.
Memory loss can take many forms and have multiple causes. If a particular area of the brain is damaged that is responsible for storing a particular type of information, memory that involves that type of information may be lost. For example, after a stroke that affects the language areas of the brain, a person may not be able to remember how to say certain things. There are also areas and systems of the brain that are responsible for helping to establish new memories. Some conditions, such as vitamin deficiency or loss of oxygen for a short period of time, can damage a specific region of the brain, so that no new memories can be formed.
There are some diseases that affect the basic systems of the brain for making the new connections for establishing new memories. These diseases may gradually impair the ability of the brain to form new memories and gradually destroy the connections of the brain that store the old memories. The most common disease which does this is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease gradually disrupts the memory forming systems of the brain so that first a person can’t remember what the date is or what they had for breakfast. However, after a period of years, the person loses memory about how to do important things and even who they are. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of memory loss in the elderly.
Many people suffer from memory loss as they get older. Some scientists consider memory loss to be a natural part of getting older. However, some people can live to be over a hundred years old and have no problems with remembering old things or new things. Therefore, many doctors agree that any memory loss must be due to some type of problem. The type of problem may be a vitamin or hormone deficiency or some other treatable problem. In cases where the memory loss is progressive and not treatable, it is important to recognize the problem early and help the person cope with their impaired memory as well as possible for as long as possible.
As more and more people are living longer and longer, it is becoming increasingly important to recognize when someone is developing a memory problem. Doctors, other clinicians, and even family members, may have difficulty recognizing when a person has a significant or serious memory problem. Therefore, it is important to consider regular memory check-ups as a person starts passing from 50 to 60 to 70 years old. There are now simple and quick screening tests to see if a person might have a memory problem. Also, if a memory test is good, it can be taken repeatedly over time to see as soon as possible when a memory problem is first developing.
MemTrax was developed as a computerized test of the exact type of memory loss most commonly seen as people get older and most specifically related to Alzheimer’s disease. This test was designed to be as fun and interesting as a game, but to follow careful scientific testing principles. MemTrax can be given in as short a time as 3 minutes and can be repeated monthly to see if memory is changing over days. MemTrax results are very easy to interpret. MemTrax can be taken as a serious clinical test or can be played as an entertaining or competitive game. The most important thing is to be aware that memory loss can go unnoticed for a long time, so objective measurement is needed to find a significant problem.
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You can also read my 10 recommendations to help defer the onset of brain decline:
- Maximize and continue your education and mental exercise
- Maximize and continue your physical exercise
- Maximize your social network and spiritual interactions
- Continually monitor and improve your diet
- Keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) in the optimal range (19-25)
- Physically protect your brain
- Visit your clinician on a regular basis. Know your body and your health risks
- Optimize your cardiovascular health
- Optimize your mental health
- Optimize your cognitive health
Here is a selection of useful links about memory loss and cognitive evaluation:
- Memory loss: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
- Alzheimer's Disease Research - A Program of the American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF)
- Understanding Memory Loss - National Institute on aging
- Memory Loss and Aging - HelpGuide.org
- Scientific Brain Training PRO
- Cognitive Assessment tools