Have you noticed that you sometimes struggle to come up with a name of someone you know? Or it takes you longer to remember where you parked your car? If you’re over 60, you’re likely dealing with some degree of memory loss.
Because memory loss often has a gradual onset, many people can manage for a while without actively addressing the problem. Maybe it takes you a little longer to find your car. But you find it. Overall, memory loss isn’t affecting your quality of life.
The trouble is, so many people learn to quietly live with memory loss, it’s created a culture of silence around the issue. We need to talk more about what memory loss means and how it impacts the brain and the body. The only way we’ll find an effective treatment is if we think about the systemic causes and impacts of memory loss.
The main causes of memory loss
Memory loss can be caused by damage to the brain from an illness, injury, or infection. But it’s easy to forget that aging itself causes damage to the brain.
As people age, some will have limited memory loss that doesn’t impact their overall quality of life. It may take them longer to do some activities. But with adjustments and support, they can live independently.
For others, memory loss will get worse over time. They will need more support and care.
Mild vs severe memory loss
People can experience a wide range of short-term and long-term memory loss symptoms. It’s important to understand the severity and monitor for early signs of dementia.
Age-related memory loss
Almost everyone over 60 has some degree of memory loss. As the brain ages, neurons die and the hippocampus shrinks.
With age-related memory loss, you may have memory lapses. You might struggle to come up with a word, even though you can feel it on the tip of your tongue. Sometimes, you’ll forget where you put something and will need to make an effort to retrace your steps.
Though it can feel unsettling to forget simple things, age-related memory loss does not usually impact your ability to live independently.
Mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment is a cognitive stage between age-related memory loss and dementia. Unlike age-related memory loss, people with mild cognitive impairment will experience some disorientation and may struggle more with language.
For the most part, people can still maintain their quality of life. However, people with mild cognitive impairment need to track their symptoms closely. They are at higher risk of developing dementia.
If you have a memory loss disease such as Alzheimer’s, you can develop dementia. Dementia is memory loss so severe you need support to complete basic tasks of everyday life. You struggle to learn new things. And you cannot recall things that should be familiar such as loved ones’ names.
One of the more challenging aspects of dementia is that you are often unaware of the severity of your memory loss. Many people in late-stage dementia cannot remember that they have dementia, making them even more confused and disoriented.
The impacts of memory loss
As a scientist, I focus on the brain science of memory loss. But we cannot ignore the wide range of impacts memory loss has on people and their loved ones.
Emotional and mental impact
People with memory loss will likely experience frustration and anger as they struggle to navigate the world. Places and processes that were familiar in the past are now strange and confusing. They may lack the sense of security and safety they once had.
Many people will find that they have an altered sense of self. They might struggle with how to understand their value and place in the world.
Impact on relationships
As memory loss changes how someone sees themselves, it also shifts the relationships they have with friends and family. Everyone deals with these changes differently. Some people feel comfortable asking for help. But caretaking can put an incredible amount of stress on families.
Others dealing with memory loss might prefer to keep it private. If they avoid connecting with others, they might find themselves in a spiral of loneliness and isolation.
As people need more support, the cost of memory care can be a huge burden. Plus, they likely don’t have the capacity to make decisions and problem solve like they used to. This makes it particularly difficult to manage their finances. With cognitive impairment so common, older adults are also susceptible to fraud.
Overall, memory loss has a huge price tag both at the individual level and as a society.
Finding the common thread
To find an effective treatment, we need to explore what these three stages of memory loss have in common. The answer is Cognitive Reserve.
Cognitive Reserve is what makes people’s brains more resilient. People with Cognitive Reserve show aging in their brain chemistry, but they don’t have memory loss symptoms. Basically, their brains have learned to build new pathways.
We know that people who have intellectually demanding professions or who consistently engage in intensive socialization show high rates of Cognitive Reserve. What we need now is a wider pathway to Cognitive Reserve—a way to ensure everyone can get there.
A promising development
Recent studies have found a connection between the olfactory system—or your sense of smell—and memory loss. In fact, if you have a diminished sense of smell, that could be a predictor of future memory loss. This finding opens up a new avenue to treatment.
Olfactory enrichment is the act of stimulating your sense of smell with new, intense scents. Stimulating the olfactory system has proven to have a profound effect on the brain and improve cognition in older adults. In fact, olfactory enrichment is the missing link we’ve been looking for. It’s what will allow more people to achieve Cognitive Reserve.
Just think: intentionally stimulating your sense of smell every day could provide enough stimulation to make your brain more resilient against memory loss.
Introducing the Memory Air Device: Amidst these challenges, we’ve created a groundbreaking solution – the Memory Air device. This innovative device taps into the remarkable connection between smell and memory. By releasing carefully formulated scents during sleep, it triggers specific neural pathways associated with memory enhancement. Learn more at www.memoryair.com.