Memory Loss in Elderly Persons

Memory Changes in Normal Ageing

Gradual memory decline is part of normal ageing, such that many elders feel that they have poor memory or worry that they have dementia. In fact, loss of memory is influenced by physical health, lifestyle habits and educational level of the individual. Older people are capable of maintaining a good memory through exercising their minds frequently and using appropriate memory skills.

Myths about "Memory Loss"

  1. Old people are bound to have poor memory?
  2. Old people cannot learn new things?
  3. We can do nothing to improve our memory?
  4. Old people with poor memory must be suffering from dementia?

The Truth

  1. The speed of memory loss is usually very slow during normal aging process. It becomes obvious only after 70 years old while the short term memory (from a few seconds to 1 to 2 minutes), the long term memory (years ago) and the memory about procedures (the steps of Tai Chi) will not be affected under usual situation.
  2. In general, the elders can keep good learning ability, especially in conceptual ideas and skills, e.g. playing chess and cooking etc.
  3. The elders can improve and maintain the memory by frequent practising and using appropriate memory techniques.
  4. One the other hand, for a patient suffered from dementia, apart from the memory decline, the disease also affect the understanding, language, learning, mathematics and judgment ability of the patient.

Factors Affecting Memory in the Elderly

  1. Inattention and external interference or distractions.
  2. Fatigue leading to poor concentration.
  3. Lack of opportunity for practising and rehearsing.
  4. Psychological stress and emotional problems, e.g. depression and anxiety.
  5. Lack of confidence: some older people consider themselves as stupid, poorly educated, and hold fear for new things, hence become too pessimistic and negative.

Tips for improving Memory

  1. Attend to one task at a time and avoid external distraction.
  2. Simplify information and remember them one by one, e.g. learning Tai Chi one step at a time.
  3. Link items to old memories to be remembered, and form images to which can be exaggerated for more vivid memory, e.g. to alert oneself of the serious consequence of forgetting to switch off the fire after boiling a kettle of water, try to visualize an elephant dashing into a swimming pool, leading to splashing of water with a banging noise.
  4. Divide numerical information into groups. e.g. telephone number 2121 8080.
  5. Categorize information by putting similar items in the same list, e.g. when shopping.
  6. Summarize information: understand information thoroughly and focus attention on the main points, put aside the details.
  7. Rehearse and practise repeatedly.
  8. Be observant and notice the special features, e.g. special facial characteristic for remembering.
  9. Preserve optimal function of the senses. Seek medical attention early if there is problem in hearing or eyesight. Wear spectacles or hearing aid if necessary.
  10. Be self-confident and adopt a positive attitude.
  11. Use coping strategies or memory aids, e.g. draw up checklists and timetable, use tape recorder and electrical appliances such as medication alarm, big calender, colourful labels and pictures, etc.

In summary, if elders effectively apply the above skills in daily living, they are capable of maintaining good memory. However, if there is rapid deterioration in memory, affecting daily life and home safety, professional advice should be sought.