Everybody misplaces cell phones or forgets a name from time to time. But if you're older than 60 and feel like your memory is slipping, don't just ignore it--you may be at greater risk for brain diseases like dementia, according to new research from the University of Kentucky.
The study team analyzed years of memory and health data on a large group of men and women age 60 and older--none of whom started out with dementia or memory impairment. Compared to those who reported no memory issues during the study, people who complained of worsening recall were roughly three times more likely to develop dementia later in life. How much later? Dementia set in an average of 12 years after a person first noticed memory problems, the authors say.
Of course, memory slips can be as common with aging as sore knees. More than half of the people who participated in the study reported memory glitches, said study coauthor Richard Kryscio, of UK's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. But while those memory concerns signaled an increased risk for some brain diseases, "those memory complaints did not guarantee a person would develop dementia," Kryscio stressed.
He also warns that an occasional memory hiccup--those lost phones or forgotten names--are not reasons to freak out. Instead, you should be on the lookout for a noticeable decline in your ability to recall things, Kryscio said.
"Ask yourself what direction your memory is heading over a period of several months or years," he suggested. If you think your recall is definitely declining, that’s a sign you need to notify your doctor, he adds.
But what can your doctor do about it?
"First of all, he or she can help you assess if the problem is real and getting worse," Kryscio explained. "Your doctor can also look for other things that might be causing your memory issues."
He mentioned vitamin deficiencies--specifically a lack of B12--and poor sleep as two not-so-scary explanations for your muddled memory (if shut-eye is hard for you, these 20 ways to sleep better every night can help).
Unfortunately, there's no cure for dementia. But Kryscio said he's hopeful treatments will soon be available that can forestall or prevent the advance of the disease. By keeping on top of your memory issues with your doctor, you'll ensure yourself the best possible outcome, he added.