Memory loss and Alzheimer's disease rank high on the list of senior fears. Alzheimer's was the No. 1 fear of aging, according to research conducted by Bankers Life and Casualty Co., a national life and health insurer that focuses on serving the retirement needs of the middle market. Similarly, a national poll by Research!America and PARADE magazine showed that adults were more than twice as likely to fear losing their mental capacity as their physical ability.
The good news is, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins, most memory loss has nothing to do with Alzheimer's disease. Nearly all of us, they say, take more time to learn and recall information as we age.
There are simple things that you can do in your everyday life to increase your ability to retain information and exercise your brain.
Engage your brain: Mentally stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and the connection between them. You can keep those cells in shape by giving them a workout. Instead of passively watching TV, try something that engages your brain: reading, writing, taking a class, doing a crossword puzzle, or even learning a new game to play with family members.
Stay in touch: Loneliness is linked to depression, a risk factor for memory loss. Try to keep your social network strong by volunteering or simply helping a neighbor. Make a conscious effort to stay connected with friends and relatives by visiting with them or keeping in touch by phone or e-mail.
Eat healthy: Maintaining a balanced diet, low in saturated fats is said to be better for cognitive functioning. In addition, the Alzheimer's Association notes growing evidence that a diet rich in dark vegetables and fruits - which contain antioxidants - may help protect brain cells.
Stay active: Regular exercise can increase oxygen to the brain. It can also lower the risk for diseases that can lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Your doctor can help you develop an exercise regime that's best for you.
When to seek help: "It's important to know the difference between normal forgetting and something more serious," says Scott Perry, president of Bankers Life and Casualty Co., who serves on the board of directors of his local Alzheimer's Association chapter.
Serious memory problems, according to the National Institute on Aging, are those that affect a person's ability to perform everyday activities. A doctor should be contacted if you or your loved one start any of the following behaviors: asking the same questions over and over; becoming lost in familiar places; not being able to follow directions; getting very confused about time, people and places; and losing interest in daily activities such as grooming and eating.
If you have concerns about your memory, talk to your doctor right away. For more topics of interest, visit www.bankers.com and click "Senior Resources."