By Barrett White
Forgetfulness is a normal sign of ageing and can happen to anyone. But what happens when the problem is actually something more than that?
Everyone forgets things – I’ve left my own wallet at home more times than I can count. This is normal behavior, annoying as it can be. Everyone experiences lapses in memory, whether it be forgetting a password, losing your keys, or leaving your wallet on your bedside table, only to realize when you’re already halfway through your morning commute.
But when can someone discern the difference between normal memory lapses, and something much larger? Dr. Joanna Ira, geriatrician at Legacy’s Fifth Ward Lyons clinic, says that cognitive impairment affects roughly 5% of seniors by age 60, and 15% of those at 75.
“The signs are there, but they’re difficult to catch early on,” Dr. Ira says. “Usually close family or friends will notice before the patient. What starts as normal forgetfulness will lead into more frequent forgetfulness, and eventually could even lead to depression.”
Depression, Dr. Ira says, becomes more apparent during a patient’s struggle with cognitive impairment as they begin to forget about doctor appointments, plans with family and friends, and other events and happenings that once kept them active and social. Other signs could be irritability, or even lashing out at family members for hiding or stealing their belongings, when in reality they have just misplaced them. “Sometimes, these signs are present for up to a year or two years before the people closest to the patient realize that it is a problem,” Dr. Ira says.
While not entirely preventable, there are ways to mitigate the illness. “Many of the issues that lead to cognitive impairment are the same as heart disease,” Dr. Ira says.
While there is no cure for cognitive impairment or dementia, there are ways that you can help to prevent it. Quitting smoking, watching your weight, and light cardio exercise like 30 minutes of walking, five times a week, could help to keep your body performing as you expect it to as you age. Keeping up social connections helps to keep the mind sharp.
If you feel like you or a loved one is experiencing early onset cognitive impairment, contact a Legacy geriatrician today at (832) 548-5000 or by scheduling an appointment online.