Have you forgotten something?
Although forgetfulness is something that happens to us all from time to time, it is more than a little disconcerting. To help you understand the issue, this blog looks at:
- Signs of forgetfulness
- What causes forgetfulness
- Whether or not memory loss is the same as dementia
- Tips to keep your memory sharp.
If you're over the age of 65, forgetfulness is more likely to be a sign of dementia so it's important to talk to your GP who will be able to test for this condition. Unlike forgetfulness, dementia is not an inevitable part of aging and should be addressed by a medical professional.
What are the symptoms of forgetfulness?
Do you often lose important belongings such as your keys, or forget why you've gone into a room? Do you regularly forget what you want to say halfway through a sentence?
These are all common signs of forgetfulness that, believe it or not, happen to all of us, particularly as we get older.
What is the cause of forgetfulness?
Various factors can contribute to forgetfulness, including:
- Stress – this makes it harder to concentrate, meaning it's difficult to retain new information.
- Anxiety or depression – struggling with either of these problems can contribute to memory loss.
- Lack of sleep – again, this makes it difficult to focus, meaning you're more likely to forget information.
- Alcohol – the short-term effects of alcohol consumption include forgetfulness.
- Medications – antidepressants, some blood pressure tablets and other medications may lead to memory issues. Speak to your doctor if you are concerned.
- Certain illnesses – dementia and Alzheimer's are most often associated with memory loss.
Is memory loss the same as dementia?
Losing your train of thought during a conversation isn't always indicative of dementia. Instead, this kind of slip of the tongue is what's known as an "attentional problem". This basically means that, the harder we try to resume our train of thought, the more elusive it becomes. Although this does tend to happen more frequently as we get older, it's usually for the simple reason that we're not really so interested in the topic of conversation, or that we are distracted by something else.
Although dementia also causes forgetfulness, it is usually accompanied by other symptoms including problems with mood, language, understanding and movement.
If you or someone you know is becoming increasingly forgetful, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor for advice. Dementia is more common in those over the age of 65 so a discussion is even more important if you're in this age bracket.
According to Alzheimer's Disease International, there are an estimated 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide and by 2050 the number will rise to over 115 million, making it something we really can't afford to ignore.1
How can I sharpen my memory?
There are various lifestyle factors that can aid memory.
First of all, whatever your age, you're more likely to score well in a memory or brain function test if you lead a healthy life so, here's my advice:
- Don't smoke – smoking also raises the risk of memory problems and even dementia. Have a look at the NHS website for tips on tackling this unhealthy habit.
- Be health-savvy - avoid or treat hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes – all of which can contribute to memory problems by interfering with circulation in the brain.
- Keep your brain active – doing regular puzzles like sudoku and crosswords makes the brain work. Alternatively, you could try learning a new skill (such as a musical instrument) or a new sport.
- Stay organised – keep a diary, make to-do lists, use the calendar on your phone and stay focused by limiting the number of things you try to do at once.
If you are concerned about memory loss, try not to self-diagnose. The information above is here to offer guidance, but it is not a substitute for the advice of a doctor. Therefore, make an appointment with your GP if you would like a more in-depth discussion on the issue.
Originally published 6th March 2012 (updated on 24 February 2020)