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Forgetfulness is part of aging

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Jenny is a nurse. Nursing fills her life and gives her a sense of purpose, but recently she has begun to forget details and has become more disorganized.

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At first, she laughed it off, but her memory problems have worsened. Her family and friends have been sympathetic but are not sure what to do.

Jenny is angry at herself and frustrated and she wonders if these problems are signs of Alzheimer's disease or just forgetfulness that comes with getting older.

Many people worry about becoming forgetful. They think forgetfulness is the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. Recently, scientists have learned a lot about memory and why some kinds of memory problems are serious, but others are not.

Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain.

Some people may notice that it takes longer to learn new things. They may not remember information as well as they did. They may lose their glasses. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems.

Scientists have found that if older adults are given enough time, healthy older people can do as well as younger people on complex memory tests. In fact, as we age, healthy adults usually improve in areas of mental ability such as vocabulary.

Some memory problems are related to health issues that are treatable. For example, medication side effects, Vitamin B-12 deficiency, chronic alcoholism, tumors or infections in the brain or blood clots in the brain can cause memory loss or even dementia. Some thyroid, kidney or liver disorders also can lead to memory loss.

Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety or depression can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia.

Someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse, relative or friend may feel sad, lonely, worried or even bored. Dealing with these life changes can leave some people confused or forgetful.

Keep your memory sharp. Plan tasks, make "to do" lists and use memory aids like sticky notes and calendars. Develop interests or hobbies and stay involved in activities that help both your mind and body.

Exercise. Several studies have associated exercise with better brain function.

Limit alcohol use. Heavy or binge drinking over time can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage.

Find activities to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a serious memory problem, talk to their doctor. They may be able to diagnose the problem or refer you to a specialist in neurology.

We don't know yet what prevents age-related cognitive decline, but we do know that a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, physical activity, appropriate weight and not smoking can maintain and improve overall health and well-being.

People of all ages can benefit from taking positive steps to get and stay healthy.

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