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Living with Early Stage Memory Loss: December 10, 2011

An estimated 5.4 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It’s one of a handful of disorders that affect the memory. Together that leaves millions of people going about their lives with various stages of memory loss.

“You can train and learn new skills without having much memory,” says Dr. Michael Raab, a geriatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Dr. Raab works extensively with memory. He believes people, especially in early stages, can still maintain some quality of life.

“Because your brain does more than just memory and there are whole parts of your brain where you can learn and do new things without using the hippocampus access, which is the memory center.”

And even with a failing memory, people can still find enjoyment in social activities.

“Even though you have a memory problem and you may not remember people, you can still remember the gist and go to a party and enjoy it even though you don’t know anybody that’s there. But you can recognize them in the back of your mind as being familiar people. You can still enjoy and participate, without having much memory or even being able to remember five minutes after you leave,” says Dr. Raab.

Research shows there are also things people can do to offset memory loss and keep themselves independent longer.

Among them are: cutting back or stopping the use of cigarettes and alcohol, getting regular exercise and keeping the brain active and challenged. Training yourself to use memory prompts and reminders can go a long way.

“If you want to stay at home longer, then physical exercise slows the memory loss by generating new nerve cells making the cells that are there healthier. And then if you’re also at the same time training your brain to do things that are going to support you, then you’re overall better off,” says Dr. Raab.

It’s all about learning to live with memory loss, with the emphasis on ‘living’.