Cognitive Retraining Helps Keep Aging Brains Sharp
Many believe memory loss is a normal part of aging. While the occasional senior moment of forgetfulness – such as misplacing your keys – can be expected, more frequent lapses could mean a more serious problem, such as dementia.
"The term 'dementia' isn't a specific disease, but describes a range of conditions causing problems with memory, problem solving or other skills that can impact your daily life," says Ross L. Gourvitz, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology at Lutheran Medical Center. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. In fact, one in eight older adults suffers from it. The Alzheimer's Association identifies 10 warning signs, which include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning and problem solving
- Difficulty in completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time and place
- Trouble understanding visual/spatial relationships
- New problems with speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Changes in mood and personality.
Taking a Closer Look
If you or someone you know has some of these symptoms, you may be wondering whether dementia or Alzheimer's disease is to blame. However, dementia symptoms, such as forgetfulness or confusion, don't always mean there's a neurological problem. Sometimes symptoms may be related to other medical issues, which is why it's important to get an evaluation.
Other problems, such as depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease or even certain medications could cause problems that appear very similar to dementia. A memory screening can help identify problems that warrant more specific evaluation.
A memory screening involved an interview and evaluation with a neurologist or a psychiatrist to determine if the patient is having difficulties outside of what would be considered normal for his or her age. If results are normal, a rescreening is typically recommended in one year. If there's another problem going on, doctors will work to identify and treat it. If results are abnormal, further memory evaluation may be suggested to help diagnose the patient and develop a treatment plan.
Help with Memory is Here
Patients are often surprised to learn that there are treatments available for dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, that go beyond medication. One helpful treatment is called cognitive retraining.
"With cognitive retraining, patients learn ways to work around their memory problems, as well as exercises that stimulation and strengthen their mental skills," says Dr. Gourvitz. During cognitive retraining sessions, patients work on real-life activities, such as balancing a checkbook or reading about current events. This helps to provide stimulation and build skills they may have lost. Ultimately, these techniques can help restore confidence and improve patients' ability to perform daily activities, Dr. Gourvitz says.
For more information on Lutheran's memory support services, call 718-630-8600.
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