Friday, December 07, 2007
Losing my keys or losing my mind?
My car keys were nowhere to be found. I checked the usual places and I retraced my steps from the night before. Nothing. My pup, Buddy, has stolen socks and shoes, but he looked innocent. I asked my housemate, Tom, whether he had seen them. He said he hadn't. I got to work using a spare set, but I spent the day wondering whether losing my keys was the first step to losing my mind.
I consulted memory expert Dr. James Lah, an Emory University neurologist. I related the key incident, and he asked me if I usually put them in the same place (I do). He asked if I tend to park my car in the same spot (I do). He said that those habits are how we remember things, and he bet that Tom was the guilty party.
Dr. Lah says some memory lapses are a normal part of aging. If our attention is affected, memories won't be stored efficiently. Fatigue, hormone imbalances, stress, depression, certain prescriptions and distractions can all prevent us from remembering.
We can also have problems retrieving memories. If the storage areas of the brain are damaged by Alzheimer's disease, or a stroke, the brain won't be able to properly recall the information stored in the damaged area.
Lah says it's not unusual to forget names or misplace items occasionally. But forgetting something that you recently did, or forgetting a responsibility that affects your well being - such as not paying bills, may merit a doctor's scrutiny. As our population ages, screening for memory problems will be a critical.
While there are several drugs available for treating Alzheimer's disease memory and thinking problems, Dr. Lah says, excitement is building for neuroprotective treatments that are in the development pipeline, including a vaccine. The hope is that the drugs will prevent and eliminate the brain-clogging deposits that are part of Alzheimer's disease.
Turns out Dr. Lah was right about my keys. Tom had used them to take out the trash and left them in the box where the trash bags were, under the kitchen counter. It's good to know that my mind wasn't the issue... in this case.
Do you worry about your memory? What do you do to keep your memory sharp?
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