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07.Diagnosing dementia brain health

Mild cognitive impairement: A new term defining memory loss

We all forget things from time to time. Who hasn’t walked into the kitchen and forgotten what they went in there for, or mislaid the car keys?

Everyone is different and the effect on memory of getting older is different for each person. But memory loss that disrupts everyday life isn’t a normal part of aging — it’s a symptom of dementia (the most common cause of which is Alzheimer’s disease), a gradual and progressive decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.

It’s perfectly normal to get distracted at times, and forget to serve part of a meal, for example. But a person with dementia may have trouble with all the steps involved in preparing a meal. And temporarily losing a wallet is one thing. But putting it in an unusual place like the freezer could be a warning sign of dementia.

Losing items and having trouble remembering people’s names could indicate that you have what’s recently been termed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This is defined as a level of memory loss greater than that usually experienced with aging, but without other signs of dementia. People with MCI can usually accomplish all their daily tasks, but often compensate for their memory problems by relying on memory prompts such as reminder notes or calendars.

The presence of symptoms such as these doesn’t necessarily mean you have, or will develop, dementia, but it’s better to see your doctor to discuss them sooner rather than later. Early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia can ensure you get the right treatment, care and support.

For a checklist of the early signs of dementia go to Alzheimer's Australia , or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 to discuss memory concerns.

Keep your brain healthy

  • Eat well. Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Numerous studies suggest that fruit, vegetables and fatty fish might help preserve mental agility by protecting blood vessels and promoting regeneration of nerve cells. Avoid harmful substances — excessive drinking and drug abuse damage brain cells.
  • Stay socially connected. Sports, cultural activities, emotional support and close personal relationships appear to have a protective effect against dementia.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical exercise is essential for maintaining good oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain.
  • Sleep and relax. Make sure you get regular and adequate sleep, and try to curb stress — it triggers the release of hormones that can impair memory and even damage brain cells.
  • Challenge yourself. Do crosswords or Sudoku, play a musical instrument or learn a new language. Keeping mentally active strengthens brain connections, and you can train your brain to improve reasoning, memory and speed of processing.

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