Did you know that memory problems are normal? Simple things like not being able to remember where you put your keys, having trouble remembering what you need at the grocery store, or losing your glasses again?
Some forgetfulness is a normal problem in our everyday, hectic lives. We often multitask, which makes it difficult to remember all the small actions we do.
But sometimes forgetfulness is a symptom of something else. When should you worry about your brain health?
Should I be worried?
We all go through seasons where daily activities are difficult due to our life circumstances. Often there is no cause for concern. But some problems that persist over a long period of time may need to be investigated.
Female veterans are at higher risk for certain conditions that can affect their brain health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Any type of trauma (physical or emotional) caused by an event, series of events, or set of circumstances can also affect your physical, mental, and brain health. All of these are common in military service and can affect the brain health of women of all ages.
It’s never too early to talk to your Virginia primary care provider about your concerns. Some signs you may want to look out for include:
- Difficulty with complex tasks — like balancing your checkbook — that you used to do easily
- Problem calling new events or information
- Difficulty coping with unexpected events
- Losing familiar places
- Trouble holding a conversation, following the conversation, or finding the right words
These could be signs of something more serious, such as dementia. Some women who have brain health problems or memory loss may also experience difficulty concentrating, have trouble planning or completing daily activities, or experience changes in mood or personality.
What will the VA do?
Your VA primary care provider will help you address any possible problems that may be affecting your brain health. This may include:
- Discussing your symptoms
- Discussing a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Review all your medications for side effects that may affect brain health
- Perform a physical examination, including vision and hearing
- Conduct short memory tests
- Ordering lab tests or imaging tests
Your provider may also discuss your military history. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which may have occurred during military service, can increase the risk of developing memory loss conditions or dementia, even years after the injury occurred. If you served in combat, the VA will conduct screenings for TBIs and recommend follow-up care and specialty providers as needed.
Other factors can affect your brain health. Treating them can not only improve your brain health, but also your ability to carry out daily activities. You or your primary care provider may want to discuss the following:
Treating any of the above can improve your chances or avoid or delay memory loss problems like dementia.
What can my treatment be?
If your tests show any concerns, your primary care provider will work with you and your family to create a plan that meets your needs.
Treatment can include things like prescribing medication, a referral for glasses or hearing aids, making an appointment with a sleep specialist or neurologist, and a referral to social work to make sure you have the right support systems in place.
Your safety is a primary concern, so your primary care provider may also refer you for a home safety assessment to make sure you have the things you need to perform your daily activities as safely and confidently as possible.
What can I do to improve my brain health?
Our brain health is affected by our physical, emotional and social well-being. Certain activities can improve your brain health, and while they may not prevent conditions like dementia, they can help slow the process. Some things you can do include:
How can I access care?
If you don’t already have a VA primary care provider, you can call the nearest VA medical center and ask for a Women Veterans Program Manager. They can help you coordinate the services you may need.
If you have not yet signed up for VA health care, call or text the Women Veterans Call Center at 855-829-6636. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8am to 10pm ET and Saturday, 8am to 6:30pm ET. If you call after hours, we will return your call the next day we are open.
For more information, you can download an eligibility brochure or visit the VA Women Veterans Health Care website.
Don’t let your brain health fool you. Talk to your primary care provider early if you have any concerns about your brain health.