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Fading Memory? When to Be Concerned

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As we get older, our memories naturally start to change a bit, and many seniors wonder if they are in the early stages of cognitive decline or if what they are experiencing is normal. Find out about normal memory loss and how to tell the difference between memory lapses and serious health concerns below.

It's natural to feel nervous when you forget something, knowing that Alzheimer's disease now affects 5.3 million Americans. But a memory slip doesn't always mean the worst.

According to KPHO, the following five situations point toward normal, age-related memory loss. According to the Duke University Medical Center and a team of researchers from other top universities, about 1 in 3 people over the age of 70 have some form of memory impairment. Signs of memory loss can occur much sooner than age 70, however. Simply getting older can slow down the memory banks as the brain ages.

But how can you know if the memory lapses are normal “senior moments” or if they indicate a serious health condition? Read on to find out if you should be concerned about your memory lapses.

Normal Memory Problems

Researchers from Harvard Medical School have identified 6 common memory hiccups that are normal and should not be a cause for concern. If you suffer from any of these conditions, your brain is probably fine. However, if you have episodes like these regularly, you may want to consult with a health professional about your risk for developing dementia or another brain degenerative disease or take steps to protect your memory today.

Transient Memory Loss

This happens to everyone. Transient memory loss is simply the loss of details or events over time. Memories recalled often are usually forgotten less than memories recalled less frequently. Researchers believe the mind uses a kind of “use it or lose it” policy when deciding which memories to keep fresh. The brain uses this function to make way for new memories and it is actually considered a beneficial function of the brain. However, if you want to hold on to a memory, think of it often.

Absentminded Memory Loss

Absent-minded people simply do not pay attention to the task at hand. This is how you can forget where you laid down your book even though you only set it down moments ago. If you want to remember where you place objects, think clearly about where you are putting them and why so that you can find them again later. Use written cues to help remember information like appointments or when to take medicine.

Misattribution Memory Loss

Misattribution is the incorrect attribution of memory to a time, place, or person. You may think you drove to the store with your daughter, but in fact, it was your son. Another form of misattribution takes ownership of another person’s ideas- a cause of some cases of plagiarism. Studies show that as a person ages, concentration and information processing becomes more difficult; making attribution errors more likely. The older a memory is, the more likely it is to be misattributed as well, which is why this form of memory loss becomes more common with age.

Memory Blocks

We’ve all had that moment when you just know you know the answer to a question but you cannot think of it at the moment. This is considered to be a temporary block on the memory caused by your brain recalling the wrong fact but still realizing the error. The competing memory “blocks” the real fact from emerging until later- usually after someone has looked up the information online. According to studies, half of the blocked memories emerge within 1 minute after the block occurs. As people age, they are more likely to experience memory blocks- possibly because there are more memories in the brain to compete for attention.

Perception of Memory Loss

Each person’s experiences, moods, beliefs, and knowledge filter their memories. A bias that you have about a memory can change your perception of the memory. For example, if you were angry during a memory, you may remember that your spouse said something hurtful, but forget that you also said something hurtful to your spouse. As a child, you might remember a certain place as huge and terrifying, but when you visit it as an adult you see that the area is small and quite friendly. No research has been done so far to determine if memory bias becomes stronger or more common with age, but everyone has perception bias to some degree with all memories.

Suggestible Memory Loss

Have you ever talked to a child about an event that occurred before he or she was born? The child may insist that he or she remembers everything about the event- even down to the colors everyone was wearing at the time. This is an example of suggestible memory. Suggestible memory is influenced by the information you learn about an event after the fact. That information is then added to your memory although you never experienced that information (or none of it, in the case of the child). The power of suggestion can influence memories greatly and can change your memories over time and as you age.

Signs of Normal Memory Loss


  • Lapses do not interfere with daily life
  • Training your brain improves memory recall
  • Your memory trouble starts after taking a new medication (some medications have a side effect that causes memory loss)
  • No one notices any memory problems Memory loss occurs most often when stressed, multitasking, or sleep-deprived


When Is Memory Loss Serious?

If you have any of the above problems, your memory lapses are normal and not a sign of actual mental trouble in your brain. However, some signs point to more serious memory problems. If you have any of these signs, then it is possible that your memory is degenerating. According to studies, normal memory hiccups are called “maladaptive brain activity changes" and occur when your brain recognizes patterns in daily life and basically turns off your memory because what you are doing is ordinary.

Instead, your brain may focus on daydreams or internal thinking. Most memory blips occur when your brain decides to “check out” during an important task. Suddenly, you have forgotten why you entered a room or if you mailed in your bills for the month.

A study published in “Neurology” in 2010 found a surprising link between mild memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that mild memory loss created the same damage (to a much lesser degree) in the brain as serious cases of cognitive decline. The researchers concluded that mild changes in cognitive function could be one of the first signs of a more serious memory problem developing.

Signs of Serious Mental Decline

Two kinds of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are identified as increasing a person’s risk for developing more serious cognitive decline. These two conditions include:

Amnestic MCI: Forgetting information you would have recalled easily in the past, like recent events, appointments, and conversations.

Nonamnestic MCI: Forgetting the time or sequence of steps necessary to complete a task, loss in visual perception, and loss of ability to make sound decisions.

If you have these conditions, you may want to check your brain for signs of cognitive decline at a medical facility.

Preventing “Normal” Memory Decline

Studies show that living a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing many common diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. A sharp mind makes life easier and more fulfilling. You can prevent much of the memory problems that are considered “normal” by simply living a healthier life. Supplementing for memory health, eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can all help you maintain a sharp mental state throughout life.





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