Monday Medical: Slipping memory or something more serious? |

Monday Medical: Slipping memory or something more serious?

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Feeling more forgetful than usual? Memory slips can be scary, but not all memory loss is a sign that Alzheimer’s disease is around the corner.

Dr. Phaedra Fegley, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines things to know about memory.

Is this normal?

Lots of factors can result in foggy memory, including fatigue, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, stress, depression, alcohol use and certain medications.

“If you’re maxed out, not resting appropriately and burning the candle at both ends, you can definitely feel memory impairment,” Fegley said. “Sometimes, it can happen due to the daily stresses of life.”

Though a bout of forgetfulness may have a simple explanation, it’s always worth getting checked out.

“If you feel like your memory is not as sharp as it should be, you should see your doctor as early as possible,” Fegley said. “It might be as easy as your thyroid hormones aren’t where they need to be, or your B12 levels are at 300, and you’d do better at 1,000.”

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

In most cases of Alzheimer’s disease, clumps and tangles form in the brain, preventing neurons from communicating with each other. The clumps are known as amyloid plaques, while the tangles are known as neurofibrillary tangles.

“The neurons are all tangled together amidst these plaques, and they can’t send a message from one neuron to the next,” Fegley said. “The interesting thing about Alzheimer’s disease is that the body is thinking it’s protecting itself. It gets a signal that something is coming to damage the brain, so it tries to protect the brain and ends up creating plaques.”

While scientists don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, there is a genetic component.

“Various issues may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, from suboptimal nutrition and illness, to biotoxins and genetics,” Fegley said. “But even if you have the gene associated with Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean you’re absolutely going to get it.”

Early signs

Alzheimer’s disease can come on slowly.

“You may have this vague sense of, ‘I don’t feel like I’m remembering as well as I used to,’ but other people aren’t necessarily noticing it. At this point, even if you have your brain function tested, your brain may still appear normal,” Fegley said. “But as the disease progresses, testing will begin to show the issue. And other people might begin to notice: maybe you forget someone’s name or ask your spouse the same question.”

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include the inability to recognize someone’s face, difficulty remembering dates and times, decreased interest in activities you enjoy, difficulty remembering what you just heard, mixing up words and slow thinking. Eventually, the disease progresses until memory and thinking are significantly impacted.

Fostering brain health

While there’s no silver bullet for preventing Alzheimer’s, the basics of a healthy lifestyle are also good for your brain. Fegley recommends exercising regularly, managing stress, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet.

Some researchers suggest a diet higher in healthy fats, lower in carbohydrates and moderate in proteins can assist brain function. Fegley recommends avoiding simple carbs and processed foods, like sodas and French fries, and eating a diet full of fiber, good fats and fruits and vegetables. Avoiding gluten and dairy, which can cause inflammation, may also help some people.

Those lifestyle changes may not only help prevent the disease, but may even help patients suffering from it.

“Patients get worried if they start to show signs of Alzheimer’s, especially if they have a family history of the disease,” Fegley said. “But I think there is hope. There are practitioners who can help depending on the level of intervention you want.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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