Worried about your memory? It may be stress.
It has been 19 months since the COVID pandemic upended our daily lives. The ups and downs we have experienced, the almost constant change in plans and new ways of life have no doubt added to feelings of stress, grief, and anxiety. This stress has consequences on our body and our mind. For many of us, the long-term impacts are just now settling in.
Prolonged exposure to a stressful situation is very different than an urgent crisis. It can result in crisis fatigue, which is a normal response to prolonged stress caused by a pandemic. The stress hormones can have an impact on almost all your body’s functions, including memory, weight gain, sleep and digestion.
For older adults, the scariest response to stress may be how it effects your memory. Surveys show that dementia is the most feared health condition for older adults. Therefore, any slow recall can cause someone to fear a memory problem, which in turn increases the stress response and, thus, makes recall more difficult. This is a terrible cycle to be in.
For example, when you are trying to give a friend directions and you cannot recall the name of a street, you may feel worried that it is a signal that you have a problem. This causes you to get flustered and try harder to remember the name of the street, only to find it even more difficult to concentrate. How will you know if this is a true memory problem or just a stress response?
The Alzheimer’s Association explains the ten most common signs of dementia, versus normal aging. Consider if the memory loss is causing a disruption in your daily routine. It is normal to occasionally forget names or appointments and then remember them later. But if you increasingly need help from others to keep on your tasks that may indicate an issue. You can read more about the common signs here https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs
If you have any concern, it is always best to tell your doctor. It is important to rule out any physical or neurological issue first, rather than living with the worry and fear of a problem.
It is important for us all to remember that these have not been normal times, and, therefore, our normal ways of coping with stress may not be working for us. You may need to try something new. Find a way to be productive and helpful. Often this can help us focus our day. Consider volunteering or helping a neighbor.
Increase your physical activity, get outdoors, and try talking to a friend. Practice meditation or breathing techniques. We all deserve extra kindness and compassion for what we are living through.
If prolonged stress is affecting your sleep, or adding to your feelings of exhaustion, then it is important to understand that can also cause issues with attention and memory. Anything you can do to ease stress and allow for rest will help you in the long term.
Be kind to yourself and to others. Your memory concerns may be a reaction to the emotional toll of the last year and a half. Now is the time to recognize your stress so that you can address it and be proactive to reduce it.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org