COPD and Memory Loss
Last updated: April 2020
I was just going to write about something...I just can’t remember what it was.
Just kidding. Bad joke.
The reason I’m writing about memory loss is that often, my wife will tell me;
“I told you about that yesterday,”
...or when I’m trying to tell a friend about a particular actress or actor or the name of a great book I just read, the names escape me at that very moment.
But then, later on, that evening, just like clockwork, I’ll sit up in the bed in the middle of the night and yell out,
“Julie Andrews! The Sound of Music.”
Memory loss due to lack of oxygen
A lack of the necessary flow of oxygen to the brain can cause various types of dysfunction including memory loss.
And what can cause there to be an insufficient amount of oxygen flowing to the brain?
Yep – you guessed it...our old friend – COPD.
So, I started to read...
Memory loss and aging
Memory loss or “forgetfulness” can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in many parts of the body, including the brain.
Some folks notice that they haven’t been remembering things as well as they used to or that they lose things more often - like their eyeglasses (which I can usually eventually “find” perched on the top of my head after looking around my desk!).
These can be signs of mild forgetfulness, not necessarily serious memory problems.
A recent study (2013) at the Mayo Clinic found an “increased risk of memory loss” can be attributed to COPD.
“...people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are about twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment -- and chances are it will include memory loss.1
However, in a European Journal of Medicine study, “Association of lung function with cognitive decline and dementia,” there was a finding that seemed to be contradictory to me.
This particular study was conducted over a 15-year period and included 11,000 patients.
The findings of the study state that “...impaired lung function was associated with worse cognitive function at baseline.”
But in the very next sentence, the study states, “No association was found between lung function and cognitive decline over time.”2
In any event, I think it’s important to be aware of how your mind (and memory) is functioning.
The primary cause of severe memory loss continues to be dementia – and, the primary cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease.
You might ask – well, what exactly is dementia? I know I did because, growing up, saying someone was “demented” was one of the most horrible things to be said about another human being.
Almost as if they had a choice to behave in that fashion.
But now we know this:
“Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.”
and that... “Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.”3
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
So then you might logically ask what exactly is Alzheimer’s Disease?
“Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.”4
I’ve not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia so, when I am “forgetful” or have memory loss, I’m almost certain it’s due to advancing age (65).
And COPD obviously doesn’t help...
COPD memory loss is different from Alzheimer’s
I also know that while COPD may be a cause of memory loss, it’s not to the same degree as that caused by Alzheimer’s or general dementia. If you’ve ever known anyone who suffers from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, there’s little consolation in that.
I think it’s important to be aware that we all may, indeed, suffer from memory loss as a result of COPD.
But, also keep in mind - plain old age can impair memory.
So - be aware.
Do you know the difference between a COPD exacerbation and lung function decline?
Join the conversation