When it comes to getting older, some might argue that a long life comes with many rewards, such as watching our children become adults and becoming proud grandparents. Unfortunately, there are downsides to getting older. As they age, many people develop health problems that significantly impact their day-to-day life. And while the overwhelming majority of these health problems are of the physical variety, some tend to present as mild cognitive impairment, mental illness, or a combination of the two. By the way, there are plenty of studies that support these claims. One study, in particular, published by the Alzheimer’s Association, revealed that an estimated12 to 18 percent of American adults aged 60 and over struggle with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). For reference, MCI is a clinical term that denotes early-stage memory loss or cognitive abilities. Getting back to mental illness, a study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that 15 percent of adults aged 60 and over struggle with a mental illness of some kind.
How Memory Works and Why It Starts to Fail as We Age
Understanding what causes memory problems requires knowing more about how memory works and what constitutes normal and abnormal when discussing aging and forgetfulness. To increase our knowledge in these areas, it helps to look at a study published by Harvard University. According to researchers intimately involved in the study, the three aspects of memory include encoding, storing, and recalling. Now, to understand how these things work collectively, we should perhaps take a look at how they work individually:
Encoding – This process entails initially taking in information. That said, encoding can happen via visual, acoustic, semantic, or tactile means. Essentially, when we experience things by seeing, hearing, perceiving, or touch, the corresponding moments are entered into our memory system.
Storage – When it comes to memory, storage plays a crucial role. And this is where short and long-term memory comes into the picture. According to the same study from Harvard University, all memories are initially stored in our short-term memory, typically for a period of 15 to 30 seconds after experiencing an event. If they are not needed, those memories are moved into and remain in our long-term memory.
Retrieval – Remembering specific moments in our life has a lot to do with how strong we are at retrieving memories stored in either our short or long-term memory. And each requires a different approach. For those not aware, recalling memories stored in our short-term memory (STM) happens in sequential order. Meanwhile, the same occurs via association when it comes down to recalling memories locked away in our long-term memory.
Why exactly do we forget things as we age?
To the shock and dismay of many, our ability to encode, store, and retrieve memories gradually declines as we get older. And there are several reasons why this is the case. In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers referred to forgetfulness as a natural aspect of aging. The study further noted that age-related changes in the body and the brain are the primary culprits. These changes make it harder to recall memories, not to mention encoding and storing them as well. Ironically, hormonal imbalances are often responsible for changes in the body and brain as we age. And low human growth hormone (HGH) levels or a complete and utter deficiency in this peptide hormone is no exception in this regard.
Although most only associate human growth hormone with growth spurts during early childhood and adolescence, they do much more when it comes down to our overall physical and mental health. These hormones play a crucial role in neural development, particularly neurogenesis, myelination, and synaptogenesis. And all of these things are essential for learning, memory, neuroprotection, and even psychological behaviors. As individuals age, the pituitary gland secretes fewer hormones. When HGH levels in the bloodstream fall too low, most men and women will experience memory problems and other cognitive issues as a result.
Aging-Related Forgetfulness and Mild Cognitive Impairment
While occasional age-related forgetfulness can be somewhat of an annoyance, mild cognitive impairment is another matter entirely. And for those not aware, the two memory problems are related. Although the exact relationship is not definitively clear, some people who struggle with age-related forgetfulness will eventually develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Further, those who do develop MCI often later develop severe neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic. Of course, before ever reaching this point, men and women with MCI will find that basic tasks, such as tying their shoes, have become significantly more challenging. They may even find themselves struggling to focus or remembering to complete specific tasks while out running errands.
Can MCI or Forgetfulness Be Prevented as We Age?
Because forgetfulness and MCI are both associated with aging, it is next to impossible to avoid either entirely. But this is not to say that we can’t lower the odds of encountering such memory problems. Some of the steps involved in doing so include the following:
Avoiding hormonal imbalances – Given the relationship between low HGH levels and memory problems, it would be best to avoid developing an HGH-related deficiency. And for men and women, this means maintaining HGH levels that are 0.4 to 10 and 1.0 to 14 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), respectively, in their bloodstream. Some of the best ways to do this include getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and consuming a healthy diet.
HGH replacement therapy – If getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and consuming a healthy diet is not helping to normalize low growth hormone levels in the body, human growth hormone replacement therapy might be worth considering. Along with resolving anxiety, depression, low libido, and other side effects typical of low HGH levels in the blood, starting an HGH deficiency therapy regimen can also help improve memory. In short, these FDA-approved treatments involve using prescription medication to stimulate increased production of HGH in the pituitary gland. Some of these prescription-based medications include the following:
Natural and Medicinal Ways to Minimize the Risk of Developing Severe Memory Problems
The good news is that while we can’t dodge memory problems altogether as we age, there are things that we can do to keep them at bay for as long as possible. Further, there are things that we can do to minimize the likelihood of them giving way to more dire memory problems, such as dementia, for example. Some of these things include the following:
Differentiating Between Normal Age-Related Issues and More Serious Cognitive Impairments
Although most people will find forgetting even small things unsettling, doing so doesn’t necessarily constitute a problem, according to a study published by the University of California San Francisco. And this also applies to those struggling with mild cognitive impairment. According to the study, generally speaking, forgetfulness rises to the level of concern when it impedes everyday life, which tends to be the case for those with dementia.
When You Should See a Doctor: Final Thoughts on Aging and Forgetfulness
For some people, age-related forgetfulness and MCI can pave the way to severe neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, which can take a toll on their day-to-day life. That said, if an individual is constantly losing track of days and time, forgetting the names of friends and family, and the like, they should be seen by a physician as soon as possible.