By J. Manuel Cordova, M. D.
Physical Changes In Aging (Continuing)
One of the important changes is with memory. You might have a harder time remembering names, telephone numbers, or all the various things you have to do. Many as they grow older become reliant on lists. It is easy to become worried that you are developing early senility or dementia or even Alzheimer’s Disease, but often the problem is simply over-loaded memory banks. With many decades of information stored in your brain, it becomes more difficult to find some of the older material and to file the new.
As you age, changes take place in your internal body systems as well as in your external appearance and your ability to perform. Some of the changes that occur are not even visible to others, and you may barely notice them yourself. During your later years the cumulative effects become more noticeable; for example, your sleep patterns may change.
But other things change as well, and you may notice yourself becoming forgetful, constipated, depressed, lacking sexual energy, suffering failing eyesight, and so on.
Good health—the consequence of sound nutrition, adequate exercise, good sleep habits, positive attitudes—may minimize some of the changes associated with aging. Conversely bad health—often the product of poor nutrition, stress, bad habits, and inactivity—accelerates the changes associated with aging and your ability to fight disease or recover from injury.
Do you frequently misplace the car keys or forget what time you agreed to meet your friends for golf or coffee or do you forget a family member’s birthday? Have lists become essential to daily life? Memory is often broken into three categories or classifications:
Short Term—for example, looking up a phone number and remembering it long enough to dial it.
Intermediate Term (Recent)—for example, what did you have for breakfast, or wear to church last Sunday, or what movies did you see last month?
Long Term (Remote)—for example, events that happened in high school or even on your vacation last summer. Aging often does not affect Short Term or even very Long Term memories, but Intermediate Term memory often declines.
To store and retrieve information your brain performs a complex chain of biological and biochemical actions using your nerve cells, and as you age some of these nerve cells function less efficiently and begin to deteriorate.
Your brain, however, compensates in remarkable ways. Even though you have fewer cells than when you were 18 years old, consider how much more wisdom and judgment you have. You now have qualities and abilities difficult to measure, that help you make sound decisions based upon a lifetime of experience.
Memory capacity can decline for various reasons, including depression, illness, and the side effects of drugs. A progressive loss of memory that begins to affect your daily activities can indicate serious problems. If you don’t recall where you put your glasses, that’s forgetful. If you can’t remember that you wear glasses, that’s a serious concern. Contact your personal physician if you (or others around you) notice these warning signs:
Your memory lapses are more frequent and more severe.
You regularly forget things you have recently learned.
You are losing interest in daily activities and even in your physical appearance.
You have severe difficulty in learning new facts or skills.
You repeat phrases or anecdotes in the same conversation.
You have abrupt changes in personality or in personal conduct.
You often want to be isolated or alone more than usual.
You lose track of daily events.
If you are suffering memory problems, you need to see your personal physician who can then refer you to experts…like neurologists or specialists in geriatrics. Well, until my next column…. I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.
Dr. J. Manuel Cordova is the President of the Lakeside Medical College.