Some were older adults concerned about the memory of their spouses. Some were adult children concerned about the memory of their parents. And a few were older adults who have noticed some slowing down of their own memory.
“But you know, nothing much that can be done at my age,” remarked one man in his eighties.
Wrong. In fact, there is a lot that can and should be done, if you notice memory or thinking changes in yourself or in another older adult. And you should do it because it ends up making a difference for brain health and quality of life.
First among them: identify medications that make brain function worse.
This is not just my personal opinion. Identifying and reducing such medications is a mainstay of geriatrics practice.
And the expert authors of the National Academy of Medicine report on Cognitive Aging agree: in their Action Guide for Individuals and Families, they list “Manage your medications” among their “Top 3 actions you can take to help protect your cognitive health as you age.”
Unfortunately, many older adults are unaware of this recommendation. And I can’t tell you how often I find that seniors are taking over-the-counter or prescription medications that dampen their brain function. Sometimes it’s truly necessary but often it’s not.
What especially troubles me is that most of these older adults — and their families — have no idea that many have been linked to developing dementia, or to worsening of dementia symptoms. So it’s worth spotting them whether you are concerned about mild cognitive impairment or caring for someone with full-blown Alzheimers.
Every older adult and family should know how to optimize brain function. Avoiding problem medications — or at least using them judiciously and in the lowest doses necessary — is key to this.
And don’t give anyone a pass when they say “Oh, I’ve always taken this drug.” Younger and healthier brains experience less dysfunction from these drugs. That’s because a younger brain has more processing power and is more resilient. So drugs that aren’t such problems earlier in life often have more impact later in life. Just because you took a drug in your youth or middle years doesn’t mean it’s harmless to continue once you are older.
You should also know that most of these drugs affect balance, and may increase fall risk. So there’s a double benefit in identifying them, and minimizing them.
Below, I share the most commonly used drugs that you should look out for if you are worried about memory problems.