Memory, Dementia Risk and Sleep as You Age

grandparent with grandsonMisplacing car keys; momentarily forgetting someone’s name: these are common memory lapses that can happen to anyone – regardless of their age. Older adults are often concerned that occasional forgetfulness or the inability to recall information as quickly as they once did is a sign of dementia. Fortunately, it’s not.

But, if you’re an older adult and memory loss is interfering with your daily life, you should talk to a loved one or your primary care provider. Together, you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your memory issues and make a plan to address your symptoms.

Get peace of mind with these important insights on your mind and aging.

Is Forgetfulness a Sign of Dementia?

Forgetfulness is not always a warning sign of dementia. It’s common for older adults to become a little more forgetful or take a little longer to remember a name or detail. Dementia, on the other hand, is a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills that impacts the quality of your life.

The Alzheimer’s Association has put together a list of 10 warning signs that could indicate your memory loss may be more than just the natural aging process:

  1. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  2. Changes in mood or personality
  3. Confusion with time or place
  4. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
  5. Memory loss disrupts daily life
  6. Misplacing things and inability to retrace steps
  7. New problems with speaking or writing
  8. Poor judgment
  9. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  10. Withdrawal from work or social activities

Learn more about each of these warning signs.

Does Old Age Cause Dementia?

Dementia is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain. This damage can occur in several different areas of the brain. The term “dementia” actually refers to several different groups of neurological disorders, often grouped by symptoms or the area of the brain affected.

The risk of developing dementia does increase as you age, but the disease itself is not caused by aging. Risk factors also include:

  • Cardiovascular risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, etc.)
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Family history
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking

Does Sleep Impact Mental Health?

As you age, your sleep pattern begins to change. You may find it more difficult to fall asleep at night and stay asleep. Older adults also spend less time in deep, dreamless sleep – which means you wake up easier, still feeling tired.

All of these changes – and subsequent lack of sleep – can impact your mental health. Sleep deprivation may increase your risk of depression, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. If you’re struggling to sleep every night, talk to your doctor. Your primary care physician can get to the root of the problem and help you craft a plan to feel better rested and recharged every morning.

Emory Healthcare

At Emory Healthcare, we’re here to help you find the care you need when you need it. With more than 2,800 doctors and 300 locations, including 11 hospitals, as well as primary care offices, urgent cares and MinuteClinics, we’re delivering specialized care across the region. Get and stay healthy with the help of a primary care physician. Find a doctor near you.


About Dr. Pena Garcia

Dr. Jorge Pena GarciaJorge Pena Garcia, MD, is a primary care physician in the Geriatric Medicine clinic at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital Campus. In 2012, Dr. Pena Garcia graduated from the Universidad Central del Ecuador Facultad de Ciencias Medicas in Quito.

He took an internship in internal medicine at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital-St. Louis and a fellowship in geriatric medicine at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial. He is a geriatric medicine specialist with clinical interests that also include family medicine, preventive care, primary care, and adult health. Dr. Pena Garcia, who grew up in Quito, Ecuador, is fluent in both Spanish and English. He feels privileged to take care of Atlanta’s Latino and Hispanic community, as he speaks the language and understands the culture.


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