Your Memories are Important — and Hoag Wants to Make Sure You Never Forget That

“Los recuerdos son como antigüedades: Cuanto más viejos son, más valiosos se vuelven.”

In English, the saying by poet Marinela Reka is: “Memories are like antiques:

The older they are, the more valuable they become.”

Memories are at the very core of the human experience. Yet as we age, memories – from decades ago to as recently as just a few hours ago – can begin to recede from our minds.

The good news? There are specific steps men and women can take to keep their minds sharp and many of their memories intact as they age – and the Hoag Community Benefit Program offers services designed to help them do just that.

The Community Benefit Program funds memory assessments, through the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute’s Orange County Vital Brain Aging Program, and follow-ups at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living – and the services are now offered to qualifying visitors in both English and Spanish at no cost.

“As they age, many people grow frustrated because their memories just aren’t as sharp as they once were,” explains Laura Venegas, who conducts the assessments at the Center and is bilingual in English and Spanish.

“Many of the men and women I work with are surprised to learn there are several easy things they can do to safeguard their minds and their memories.”

These include “healthy brain exercises” such as crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku math puzzles and other activities that require thinking and reasoning skills, Venegas says.

Combined with regular exercise (yoga is a great one for older adults) and a healthy diet, taking these steps can help rewire the brain, according to Venegas, who graduated in Spanish literature and is currently pursuing her Master’s in English as a Second Language at California State University, Fullerton.

Venegas’ educational background and family history make her the ideal person to conduct the assessments for both the Center’s English- and Spanish-speaking clients. Her parents came to America from Mexico, and she has a deep understanding of the challenges Spanish-speaking adults often face when navigating doctor visits, meetings at their children’s schools, and other day-to-day activities that native-English speakers may take for granted.

She began her career with Hoag as a volunteer translator, then became trained in memory assessment at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag. She joined the Center for Healthy Living in January 2017 and has conducted dozens of memory assessments since.

Hoag offers the memory assessments at five locations throughout Orange County, including the Huntington Beach Senior Center, Oasis Senior Center in Newport Beach, Hoag Health Center Irvine, and at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag’s Newport Beach campus.

The assessments establish a memory baseline on a scale from 0 to 100; anything below a score of 50 may benefit from further medical evaluations, Venegas says. Memory loss can be attributable to a number of factors, she explains, including vitamin deficiency, depression, sleep apnea and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Those whose baseline registers below 50 are referred to their primary care physician to identify underlying causes.

“Our memories are such a major and wonderful part of our lives,” Venegas says.

“These assessments through the Community Benefit program, and the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute’s Orange County Vital Brain Aging Program, really show Hoag’s commitment to caring for mind and body, and I’m proud to play a role in that commitment.”