Memory Loss: What’s Normal and What’s Not
Everyone has moments of occasional forgetfulness. Maybe we forget where we left our glasses or misplace our cell phone. And increasing forgetfulness can be a normal part of getting older. Our bodies make lots of changes as we get older, and that includes our brains. It can take longer to learn new information, such as how to use new software or program a new television. But as we get older, how can we tell the difference between these normal forgetful moments and signs of cognitive decline or dementia?
People may wonder if they need to worry about these forgetful moments, especially if there is a family history of dementia. The Harvard Medical School reports that by age 60, more than half of all adults have concerns about their memory.
There are many things that can cause memory problems. Certain medications can have side effects that impact a person’s memory. Health conditions, such as blood clots, head injuries, thyroid and liver disorders, and overconsumption of alcohol can all cause memory problems. Those conditions should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Emotional trauma can also cause memory issues. Dissociative amnesia is a coping mechanism similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, where someone goes through an extremely traumatic event like a natural disaster or war and can no longer remember details about their life or the event. And on a much smaller scale, we can develop memory problems when we go through stressful life events like a divorce or loss of a close family member. A mental health therapist or doctor can help if memory problems from stress persist longer than two weeks.
Here’s what to remember about normal forgetfulness versus signs of dementia:
- Dementia is disabling. People lose their ability to have conversations, understand their place in time and space, and perform the activities of daily living.
- Dementia is progressive. Typical age-related memory problems are temporary, but dementia memory problems will continue to worsen.
The good news is that it is never too late to make lifestyle changes that can help protect the health of your brain. Here are 10 things you can do to show your brain some love:
- Quit smoking. It’s never too late!
- Stay physically active. Try to be active every day.
- Prevent falls, wear your seatbelt, and don’t forget a helmet when on your bike.
- Get educated! Lifelong learning reduces your risk of cognitive decline.
- Take care of your heart. Cardiovascular risk is tied to cognitive health.
- Get good sleep. Your brain does important work while you sleep.
- Take care of your mental health.
- Stay socially active. Volunteer in your community or join a club.
- Challenge your brain. Play Wordle or do a daily crossword puzzle.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Even if you do experience mild cognitive decline, early detection is the key to the best treatment options to slow the progression of disease.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Seek treatment for any suspected memory issues.