Lynchburg expert addresses the fear of memory loss
Gerontologist Dr. Jay White studies age—or more specifically—the effects of age. After working in real estate, he made a career switch after realizing that many residents couldn’t stay in their homes after a certain point.
“I wanted to know why people couldn’t continue living on their own,” he says.
After earning his master’s degree in gerontology (he also has a Doctor of Education degree), White now dedicates his life to helping everyone enjoy their longevity and elderhood, which includes understanding the normal signs of cognitive decline. He says the fear of memory loss has become very prevalent in healthcare—and that fear can actually produce or exacerbate symptoms.
“Our brains work like a computer,” he says. “When a computer becomes overloaded with information, it processes things slower. As we age, the same thing happens. It can be difficult to recall certain names or memories.”
White says that doesn’t necessarily mean an individual has dementia. In fact, there are several ways to tell the difference between natural aging and a deeper neurological issue.
“What I see in private practice is that people concerned about memory loss don’t usually have dementia,” White explains. “Then you have to look at other underlying issues.”
According to White, talking about memory loss is the opposite of what dementia patients do. Many who start showing signs either hide their symptoms or don’t realize what’s happening.
Determining the root of memory issues is complex. Research shows there are more than 100 types of dementia, one of which is Alzheimer’s. Many of those types are highly manageable and even reversible.
“You can’t tell [if someone has dementia] just by having a conversation,” White says. “It usually involves a brain scan to get an actual diagnosis that shows brain patterns. But even then, there are types that don’t show up on a brain scan.”
While White says it’s common to get phone calls from concerned family members about loved ones who may be showing signs of dementia, his advice is to slow down and not jump to conclusions with a self-diagnosis.
“There are certain things that are a normal part of aging,” he says. “When you don’t see someone for a long period time, it can be hard to gauge what’s normal and what’s not.”
He says if there’s a concern that a relative may be “slipping,” then family members need to look at the whole picture. According to statistics, less than 12% of older adults have dementia, which White says is a small population.
“Start a conversation and ask questions like ‘How are you doing or feeling?’” he says. “Maybe your loved one is lonely and is showing signs of depression. Maybe it’s new medications and you need to talk to their pharmacist about side effects.”