Memory Problems

Memory Problems

By: Carlton Gass, PhD, ABPP, Neuropsychologist, Tallahassee Memorial

Forgetfulness is a very common problem people face. We’ve all been there – forgetting people’s names, forgetting items to buy at the store, forgetting why you entered a room, losing and misplacing things or even getting lost in familiar places. Some people who experience these difficulties are worried they might have lasting brain damage from a past event, such as a head trauma, stroke or other neurological conditions. Others are concerned they might have a progressive brain disease, such as a dementia, that impairs memory, speech and other abilities. Most people who report memory problems have no idea what the cause might be.

Forgetfulness has many causes, some of the common causes include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Inadequate sleep (most people need at least seven hours of sound sleep)
  • Medication side effects
  • Normal Aging (especially affecting visual memory)
  • Psychological stress
  • Substance Abuse
  • Toxic/Metabolic disorder
  • Vitamin deficiency

Your physician can help identify the cause of memory problems. A careful consideration of medical history, blood tests and brain imaging are a few of the common methods used to identify the cause(s) of a person’s memory difficulties. In some cases, a neuropsychologist can perform testing to help identify the problem.

What is a neuropsychologist?

Neuropsychologists are psychologists who have specialized training in brain anatomy, neuropathology, and the examination of brain-based abilities. They are trained in identifying psychological conditions and, in addition, describing the ways that neurological disorders affect mental abilities. At TMH, neuropsychological testing measures a wide range of mental abilities that are based on various areas of the brain and their interconnections.

At TMH, neuropsychological testing can assess many abilities including:

  • Ability to carry out motor actions (praxis)
  • Attention, concentration and working memory
  • Body schema/map, based on feedback from joint and muscle sensory input to the brain
  • Conceptual and logical reasoning – verbal and spatial
  • Information processing speed and reaction time
  • Mental flexibility and novel problem solving
  • Motor speed, strength and agility in both hands
  • Planning, initiation, organization, sustaining and verification of goal-oriented activity
  • Retentive (recent) memory – visual, auditory-verbal and tactile
  • Remote memory
  • Self-insight and awareness of deficits
  • Sensory-perceptual ability involving visual, auditory and haptic (touch) domains
  • Spatial skills, including drawing, assembly-mechanical, visual scanning
  • Verbal and visuographic mental fluency
  • Word-finding and naming ability

In addition, neuropsychological testing often includes a measure of personality and emotional adjustment because these are important aspects of mental functioning.

Who is a good candidate for neuropsychological testing?

Good candidates are persons who have known or suspected brain dysfunction and who are:

  • Medically capable of understanding, participating in and cooperating with the testing process.
  • Not currently abusing drugs or under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.
  • Reasonably likely to derive a benefit from the examination.
  • Willing to fully participate in and cooperate with the testing process.

Neuropsychological testing can often help answer the following diagnostic and treatment questions:

  • Are memory, speech or other cognitive problems likely to be based on an underlying brain disorder?
  • Are the causes of these problems based, not on lost ability due to brain damage, but on other factors that are reversible and more easily treatable?
  • If the neuropsychological test results suggest impaired abilities due to brain damage, what are the diagnostic implications of neuropsychological test results?
  • What are the patient’s brain-based strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the patient’s functional abilities as related to independent living and other competencies involved in daily living?
  • What are the patient’s psychological and emotional strengths and weaknesses?
  • Based on all of these findings, what are the final recommendations?

What steps can be taken to battle forgetfulness?

 The major step is to identify the cause or causes and directly address them. Many causes are treatable and with proper treatment, memory ability and efficiency can be restored.

In addition, regardless of the cause, there are useful steps that can help many people reduce problems with forgetfulness. These steps are not a cure, but they are strategies that can be very helpful. In many instances, a smartphone can be used to help manage these tasks. If you need to, get assistance to learn how to use your smartphone tools.

  • Follow a daily schedule.
  • Make memos on a notepad, digital recorder, a centrally located bulletin board, memory notebook, etc.
  • 'Memory retraining' modules exist online and are widely available for computer application.
  • Keep belongings such as keys, wallet, medications and bills, in one storage location.
  • Use a notebook or smartphone to record information and date the pages.
  • Post a checklist by the front door. Leave a note of things to remember when going out, such as to turn off electrical appliances, take keys and wallet, close the windows, and take care of pets and so on.
  • Keep important or frequently used phone numbers in your smart phone or on a list near the landline telephone.
  • Use a day planner. Write down all appointments immediately with times, places and contact phone numbers. Leave voice messages as reminders, and check often.
  • Use a timer when using the oven, stove, grill or other electrical appliances that need to be turned off. Your smartphone might have a timer and alarm application.
  • Use a timer as a reminder when to begin or end specific tasks.
  • Break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable components to facilitate successful completion.

For additional information and to learn more about neuropsychology at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, please visit TMH.ORG/Neuro.

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