Dr. Charles Breish takes us through the memory concerns that affect
us all. As a geriatrician, his perspective and insight is very valuable.
— Beverly Vaughn, MD
Medical Coordinator, Menopause and You Program
The fastest growing segment in the Main Line Health area is the 65 and
older population, according to the 2009-2010 community health assessment
conducted by Main Line Health. In addition, more than 30 percent of
adults care for an older adult with a long-term disability or illness.
This statistic has a real impact on women, as many of them assume the
role of managing both their parents’ care and their children’s. For
women in their peri- and postmenopausal years, the stress of taking care
of their family while potentially putting their own health needs feels
very real, and they themselves may complain of feeling memory loss.
As a geriatrician, I often hear memory complaints among this very aging
population. Usually memory complaints fall within two categories: people
who say they feel like their memory is going in passing and people who
have memory problems that cause actual dysfunction in their lives.
The memory problems that come with normal aging have to do with
processing, or the speed in which things come to you. For instance, it
may take more time to recall a person’s name or recent event. Pathologic
memory problems, on the other hand, interfere with your ability to do
routine tasks like balancing your check book or answering the phone.
There is no proven link between menopause and serious memory
dysfunction. However, to many women, this phenomenon still hits home.
Sometimes, cognitive function is rooted in the stress they experience in
their daily lives. Other times, there are indicators of mild cognitive
impairment or dementia.
Most memory problems encompass two main disorders: mild cognitive
impairment and dementia.
Mild Cognitive Impairment -- As we age, we can become more
forgetful. This could take the form of not remembering a particular
phone number, losing things often, forgetting certain words or having
difficulty doing routine things that previously were easy for you.
People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) tend to exhibit more memory
problems than other people their age, however, the condition is not as
severe as dementia.
Dementia -- The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as
the loss of cognitive functioning like thinking, remembering, and
reasoning, as well as behavioral abilities that interfere with daily
life. Signs of early stages of dementia include problems with word
finding, vision and spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment.
A person with dementia may have troubles recognizing a stop sign, for
example, or rearrange letters in their mind.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is more prevalent in
women than in men. According to the National Institutes on Aging,
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible and progressive brain disease that slowly
destroys thinking skills and memory. It impairs patients to carry out
simple tasks and interferes with daily life and activities. Treatment
for Alzheimer’s include medications that give temporary improvement of
memory loss that has already occurred.
The prevalence of dementia is increasing by virtue of fact that is a
disease of aging, however, it is not a normal part of aging or the aging
process. The prevalence of dementia doubles every 5 years after age 65.
By the time you are 90, you have a 40 percent chance of developing
dementia. It is very rare to impact someone younger than age 60,
especially in menopausal women.
Cognitive Function Diagnoses
Patients with dementia may become more emotional or exhibit a mood
disorder, such as depression. A mood disorder can both worsen dementia
and lead to pseudo-dementia where they don’t feel motivated enough to
say they can remember things. The most sensitive indicator of developing
dementia is having dysfunction in daily activities.
It is common for perimenopausal and post-menopausal women to take care
of their aging parents, who may be exhibiting signs of dementia. If so,
it is important to bring these things to the attention of the physician
who can counsel you through what to expect and the progression of the
disease in your parent.
Dementia can be managed by a primary care physician, neurologist, or a
geriatrician. There are medications out there that mildly help improve
memory function in about a third of the patients who take them. A lot of
people get some symptomatic relief when they get these medications.
If you are worried about your memory or memory loss within a loved one,
talk to your physician. In addition to checking memory, problem solving,
counting and language skills, the doctor may also review the patient’s
medicines and test blood and urine. The physician may prescribe a brain
scan that will show normal and problem areas in the brain.
The best thing for dementia prevention or slowing down the progression
of dementia if diagnosed is to keep your mind stimulated and mentally
active. Activity that helps you stay stimulated will help your memory.
Socializing is helpful as well because we get stimulation from
interactions with other people. It also is helpful for your mind and
memory to eat nutritious foods, exercising, stopping smoking and
controlling your blood pressure. In addition to these, you can also try
the following activities to exercise your brain:
Doing a crossword puzzle
Writing an essay
Spending time with friends and family
This article is part of the Menopause and You library,
a Web-based program sponsored by Women’s Health Source.
It is intended as an information resource providing guidelines for
women. As always, check with your own healthcare practitioner with your
specific concerns and questions.
To speak with our nurse counselor, call 1-888-876-8764 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Membership on the medical staff of Main Line Hospitals does not
constitute an employment or agency relationship.
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