It’s normal to forget things from time to time, and it’s normal to become somewhat forgetful as we age. But how much forgetfulness is too much? How can you tell if your memory lapses are part of the aging process, or if they are a symptom of something more serious?
We’ve all misplaced keys, blanked on an acquaintance’s name, or forgotten a phone number. When we’re young, we do not pay attention to these lapses, but as we age, sometimes we worry about what they mean. While it’s true that certain brain changes are inevitable when it comes to aging, major memory problems are not one of them. That’s why it’s important to know the differences between normal age-related forgetfulness and the symptoms that may indicate a developing cognitive problem.
People with some forgetfulness can use a variety of techniques that may help them stay healthy and maintain their memory and mental skills. Here are some tips:
- Plan tasks, make “to do” lists, and use memory aids, like notes and calendars. Some people find they remember things better if they mentally connect them to other meaningful things, such as a familiar name, song, book or TV show.
- Develop interests or hobbies and stay involved in activities that can help the mind and body.
- Engage in physical activity and exercise. Several studies have associated exercise (such as walking) with better brain function, although more research is needed to say for sure whether exercise can help to maintain brain function or prevent or delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
- Limit alcohol use. Although some studies suggest that moderate alcohol use has health benefits, heavy or binge drinking over time can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage.
- Find activities, such as exercise or a hobby, to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. If these feelings last for a long time, talk with your doctor.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know has a serious memory problem, talk with your doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose the problem or refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist. When it comes to memory, it’s “use it or lose it.” Just as physical exercise can make and keep your body stronger, mental exercise can make your brain work better and lower risks of mental decline.