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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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An old problem

Memory loss ranges from miniscule to massive. What can we do about it?

I'm in my 50s and increasingly forgetting all sorts of things. Mainly I have trouble with people's names, where I put my car keys and what I was supposed to buy at the grocery store.

I'm reminded of the old joke: My pastor asks if I ever think about the hereafter. I answer, "Yes, all the time — when I walk out to the garage, into the kitchen or open the door to the fridge and ask myself, 'What am I here after?' "

On a more serious and personal note, my dad suffered almost complete memory loss. Slumping forward in his wheelchair, his head permanently tilted to the left, he would study me, struggling to recall who I was. If it happened to him, why not me?

But it's not just getting older that causes memory loss. The long-held belief that the loss of brain cells (neurons) alone causes common age-related memory loss is less certain today. Stress, alcohol abuse, smoking, blows to the head (brain damage), strokes, exposure to chemicals, fatigue and side effects of medication all play a part. In particular, prescriptions for treating high blood pressure can reduce memory capacity for many.

How we feel determines how we think, and the effect of our emotions upon our ability to remember is immense. Many people who worry about memory loss become depressed, and depressed people find their memory failing. Often people who discuss their concerns with their doctor have normal memory retention but suffer from depression or mood disorders. The American Association of Retired Persons maintains that clinical depression may affect 15 percent of adults over age 62.


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