March 5, 2019


Is it aging or Alzheimer’s?

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q: My husband is 69 years old, in overall good health, and recently retired. He has become extremely absentminded during the last two years. It’s affecting his quality of life. He was forced to retire at 65 by a new boss from a job he loved, and it hit him hard. He became depressed and was put on medication. He responded well to the medication, but now this absentmindedness has developed. Is this something we should just expect at our age, or could it be something more?

A: Concerns about declining thinking and memory skills rank among the top fears people have as they age. But unless forgetfulness and memory distortions occur abruptly, become extreme, or are persistent, they are usually not considered indicators of Alzheimer’s, or other memory-impairing illnesses. Moments of forgetfulness or memory distortions about facts, where we put the keys, why we walked into a room, or recalling someone’s name are common. But forgetting how to get back home from shopping, how to turn off the shower, or recognizing relatives or yourself requires prompt medical attention. Research shows that thinking skills, except vocabulary, generally decline over time.

Memory involves multiple parts of the brain that are responsible for three processes: intake (uploading), recording (storing), and retrieval (accessing for use). Illness, injury, chemical alterations, or degeneration may affect these functions and therefore reduce the brain’s ability, speed, and accuracy.

Short-term information is subject to spontaneous decay or competition among its elements for recall. Working memory uses this information along with what is retrieved from long-term storage as a scratchpad for decisions and actions throughout the day. Focus, information rehearsal, and moderate-intensity aerobic exerciseimprove short-term and working memory; while depression, anxiety, stress, medications, alcohol, and inadequate sleep impair them. Why some individuals are more affected than others is still unknown.

By God’s design, physical and mental activity is the best prescription for maintaining a healthy brain and a resilient memory. The capsules below may help you detect possible reasons for prompt medical attention for your husband.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.

Memory Capsules

Causal Associations
Inadequate sleep
Medical illness, e.g., low thyroid, infection, and head trauma
Depression, anxiety, and other mental illness
Medications, drugs, alcohol, and other chemicals
Preventive Measures
Get adequate rest and sleep.
Manage stress and anxiety.
Treat depression appropriately.
If you smoke or drink alcohol, STOP!
Do aerobic exercise and stimulating mental exercises.
Protect the brain from chemical and physical injury.
Coping Techniques
Say out loud and rehearse things to remember.
Associate new with old, established information.
Have a set place for things such as keys and reading glasses.
Break up information into chunks, e.g., telephone numbers.
Make a note or list or have a digital voice assistant for things to remember.
Cherish your spouse and keep them close at hand. ϑ