Age-related memory loss affects millions of adults in the United States. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three senior citizens die with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If you have started to notice signs of memory loss in yourself or someone you love, you are likely looking for a memory test that can give you a definitive diagnosis.
The Internet is filled with websites offering an online memory test, and while these tests may help you identify a problem, you need to see a neurologist for a legitimate memory test that can give you the answers you are seeking. In the meantime, there are ways you can improve memory and overall cognitive function with dietary and lifestyle changes.
The 3 Types of Memory
The human brain stores and processes bits of information in three different ways. If you are struggling with memory and researching online, you will likely come across the questions “what are the 3 stages of memory” as well as “what are the 3 types of memory.” In truth, these are the same questions—there are three types, or three stages of memory in the human brain—sensory, short term, and long term. Let’s take a look at the differences.
This is the shortest-term memory responsible for buffering external stimuli received from one of the five senses. Information processed in sensory memory degrades rapidly—somewhere in the range of 200 to 500 milliseconds before it “released.”
Short-term memory is held longer than sensory memory. However, unless we consciously focus on retaining specific bits of information it will fade away. Short-term memory is also referred to as working memory because the data stored here is required for everyday activities and tasks. An initial memory test conducted by a neurologist will likely focus on short-term memory capacity and recall ability.
Long-term memory is where data is stored for long periods of time. When you think of your 2nd grade teacher or remember the first time you flew in an airplane, you are tapping into your long-term memory stores. Most neurologists and psychologists break down long-term memory even further into “conscious” and “unconscious” memory.
What Is Memory in Psychology?
Psychologists recognize that memory is what makes us who we are. The three types of memory are what allow us to function healthfully in everyday life. Sensory memories spur us to remove our hand from a hot stove. Short-term memories allow us to recall the name of a person we just met. And long-term memories can transport us back to a place and time in vivid detail.
Types of Age-Related Memory Loss
As we age, our short-term memory starts to degrade. We may begin to forget where we put our keys or where we parked at the mall, or have difficulty recalling a name. This is all a regular part of the aging process. Additionally, certain vitamin deficiencies, hormone disorders, head traumas, and medications can cause memory loss that is reversible.
However, when memory loss persists, worsens, and starts to affect our ability to manage our day-to-day lives, it is time to seek counsel and have a memory test. There are four diseases, separate from natural aging, that cause progressive damage to the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common disease that causes memory loss. Early symptoms of this disease include changes in personality, depression, social withdrawal, loss of inhibitions, irritability, delusions, and wandering. It is essential to have a memory test conducted by a neurologist to determine if you have Alzheimer’s disease, as there are medications that can help slow its progression.
Vascular dementia is a general term that describes memory and thought problems caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia symptoms can come on suddenly after a stroke or a series of mini-strokes and are generally more rapid than the gradual, but steady decline in memory for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Frontotemporal dementia is a term used for a group of relatively uncommon disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These disorders can physically cause certain areas of the brain to shrink, and a definitive cause is hard to find. Frontotemporal dementia causes more than memory loss—speech and behavior changes can be expected. Additionally, movement disorders similar to Parkinson’s disease may occur concurrently.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of progressive memory loss after Alzheimer’s disease. This brain disease is caused by protein deposits called Lewy bodies that develop in nerve cells in the thinking, memory, and motor control regions of the brain. The symptoms of Lewy body dementia do worsen and can cause severe memory loss, aggressive behavior, unrelenting depression, and worsening of motor-related functions.
5 Healthy Ways to Boost Memory
Diet, stress, exercise, sleep, and genetics all play a role in memory loss. Here are five ways to help boost memory and protect your brain from dementia.
1. Take an Amino Acid Supplement
Amino acids play key roles in protecting the brain. If your diet is deficient in amino acids, your brain may not have the fuel it needs for proper memory storage and recall. Amino acid supplements are a great way to combat a poor diet and help you get the nutrients your brain needs to thrive.
2. Avoid Medications Linked to Poor Memory
Specific medications, including those formulated to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia, have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and memory loss. Talk to your doctor about safe alternatives and potential natural remedies like amino acids for depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
3. Manage Stress
Chronic stress impacts the brain and can cause temporary memory loss. In fact, according to a recent report published in the journal Chronic Stress, stress causes an imbalance in the circuitry of the brain affecting cognition, anxiety, mood, and decision-making. It is important to find the right balance of lifestyle changes and natural supplements to help you reduce stress.
Get moving—and stay moving. Regular exercise increases blood flood to your brain, which may boost both short-term and long-term memory. According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise changes the brain and improves memory and thinking skills.
How rigorously do you need to exercise? You just have to walk at a good pace! Research shows that getting your heart-pumping 120 minutes a week is all that is necessary to improve memory.
5. Keep Your Brain in Gear
To keep your brain healthy and to support proper memory function and recall, you need to exercise your brain as well as your body. Find brain exercises you enjoy, and stick with them for at least 30 minutes every day. Here are some inventive ways to stretch your mind.
- Learn a new language
- Learn to paint or sculpt
- Do a crossword puzzle
- Crochet or knit
- Put together a large puzzle
- Do math in your head
- Play memory games
What to Look for in a Memory Test
As mentioned above, there are many diseases, conditions, and medications that can cause poor memory and declining cognitive function. It is vital that you speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have.
The first step in determining the root cause of your memory loss will be a physical examination and some blood tests and imaging tests. If your medical team decides that your memory loss is caused by physical trauma, stroke, or medication, a treatment plan will be created.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive physical test for Alzheimer’s disease. If your physician believes there is a possibility you may have a form of dementia, you will likely be referred to a neurologist for a neurological examination, brain imaging, and a memory test.
The MMSE and the Mini-Cog are two main types of memory tests that are commonly administered by a neurological team. Both of these tests are short and will give your doctor a snapshot of your short-term memory and recall ability.
The MMSE tests mental skills and cognition. The test administrator asks a series of questions relating to everyday tasks and necessary cognitive skills. The Mini-Cog only requires you to complete two tasks. The first task is to draw the face of a clock with all 12 numbers on it. The second task is to remember and repeat the names of three ordinary objects repeated to you by the test administrator.
Yes, there are a ton of Alzheimer’s tests and memory tests online but none of them have been scientifically proven to be accurate. In fact, they may provide false-positive results according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Instead of risking a poor outcome, talk to your doctor if you are concerned about memory loss and cognitive decline.