Forgetfulness happens to all of us. We walk into a room and can’t remember what we were looking for, or we’re late getting out the door in the morning and have no idea where we put the car keys. We forget names, where we left our glasses, an appointment, an item at the grocery store or some of the seemingly millions of other little details we are tasked to remember every day. As we age, these incidents may occur more frequently and most of the time are simply a part of normal aging and not a cause for concern. It can be frustrating, worrying or annoying, but small memory lapses or forgetfulness do not necessarily indicate more serious cognitive impairment. The majority of the time, when we stop to think for just a moment longer, we find what we were looking for, remember the name of the person we recently met or realize that, yes, we did turn off the coffee pot or lock the door before we left the house.
Increasing memory loss or memory lapses that interfere with normal life are indeed a cause for concern and a good reason to check in with your doctor. However, worrying and fretting about occasional memory slips can actually make matters worse. Stress, anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation are the major causes of forgetfulness in aging brains. Distraction, inattentiveness, fatigue, medications and trying to juggle our overly busy lives can also affect how well we remember. The ability to immediately recall names or faces may actually begin to slow years before we notice, as the ability to recall information ebbs and flows over a lifespan. And while reaction times and certain memory abilities may slow with age, other skills such as increased vocabulary, the ability to use both sides of our brains simultaneously and a heightened ability to reconcile our thoughts with our feelings may not peak until our mid-sixties.
Let’s consider some of the more likely causes of memory slips:
Chronic stress – While some stress is unavoidable, chronic stress can cause damage to both bodily and brain functions. Constant exposure to the stress hormone cortisol can cause our brain to lose synapses and can reduce neurotransmitter receptors. Basically, overexposure to cortisol temporarily interferes with normal brain cell communication, making it more difficult to learn new concepts and retrieve information.
Sleep deprivation – While we sleep, our brains are busy sorting and storing memories. Those with impaired sleep and sleep disorders can experience symptoms of impaired memory and concentration, reduced reaction time, anxiety and fatigue.
Thyroid dysfunction – The thyroid is critical to many metabolic functions, including energy metabolism. An underactive thyroid, not uncommon in older adults, can cause difficulty with memory and attention span and leave you unable to think clearly. Although not generally considered to be the root cause of memory lapses, if you are experiencing cognitive problems along with sensitivity to cold, fatigue or depression and these symptoms persist, a simple blood test can confirm if the thyroid hormone level is inadequate for normal function.
Anxiety and depression – There’s strong evidence indicating mood disorders can disrupt our brain’s neural circuitry involved in storing and retrieving memories. Severe depression may also bring about equally severe memory loss. Often times, when depression lifts, memory loss improves along with mood.
Menopausal symptoms – Women who experience hot flashes know that feeling of “brain fog,” which actually may worsen the ability to remember names and experiences. Although the symptoms are temporary, other menopausal symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, can also contribute to memory issues.
Certain medications – Some commonly prescribed medications, including antidepressants, anxiety meds, painkillers and sleep aids, can cause forgetfulness or confusion by interfering with the brain processes that move short-term memories to long-term storage.
Vitamin B12 deficiency – Commonly found in older adults, an unrecognized vitamin B12 deficiency can not only negatively affect memory, it can cause severe neurological problems. Fortunately, a severe deficiency can be corrected with weekly vitamin B12 injections or daily high dose vitamin B12 supplements. A mild deficiency can be corrected with a daily high quality B complex or multivitamin.
As we age, it can become more difficult to maintain a high level of concentration when attempting to multitask, leading us to believe we are having memory problems when we simply need to divide our tasks into more manageable portions. This doesn’t mean that we should just accept or ignore any memory impairment. Fortunately, our brains are malleable and we can boost our brain power with simple but powerful interventions. Begin by getting better sleep, cleaning up your diet and getting some all important daily exercise. Everything that is good for heart and overall health is also good for boosting brain health. To help maintain a mental edge, give your brain a daily workout by consciously acquiring new skills and challenging your brain to learn something new.
Remember, unless memory lapses become extreme or persistent, forgetfulness is within the scope of normal aging. Abnormal forgetfulness is more complex than just failing to remember. Loss of abilities, deteriorating functions and negative changes in behavior patterns all indicate a need to seek a medical diagnosis. Generally speaking, if you are aware of your memory lapses and those close to you are not worried, it’s likely annoying but not necessarily an indication of a more serious condition. However, if family members are concerned or the forgetfulness is interfering with normal everyday tasks or your ability to care for yourself and is happening whether you are stressed or not, sleeping well or poorly, it may be a sign of early cognitive impairment that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Supplements to support healthy cognitive function include:
Phosphatidylcholine 420 mg by Designs for Health® – An integral component of every bodily cell, extensively researched Phosphatidylcholine supports mental energy and plays an important role as a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential to learning and memory. Additionally, Phosphatidylcholine helps maintain cell structure and supports fat metabolism, nerve signaling and liver health. Gluten and dairy free. Contains soy.
Alpha-GPC by Pure Encapsulations – This product provides a source of choline, a precursor for synthesis of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine. Alpha-GPC supports memory and cognitive and neurological function. Non-GMO formula. Contains soy.
Memoractiv by Thorne Research – This comprehensive memory-enhancing formula provides a synergistic blend of widely researched nutrients and botanicals in support of cognitive function and enhanced memory, learning and focus. Gluten and dairy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula. Contains soy.
ProDHA™ 1000 mg Strawberry by Nordic Naturals – This high potency, omega-3 formula is suitable for children, teenagers and pregnant women. DHA is an essential nutrient for brain health and supports healthy mood and neurological and cognitive functions. ProDHA™ is third party tested for heavy metals, has a natural strawberry flavor and is naturally preserved with rosemary extract. Gluten free, Non-GMO.
The four horsemen of forgetfulness. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/the-four-horsemen-of-forgetfulness
Just Forgetful, or Is It Dementia? https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/forgetful-dementia/
12 Unexpected Things that Mess With Your Memory. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20845146_5,00.html
Reversible causes of memory loss. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046326?pg=2
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780