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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Is Your Memory Normal?

Before you diagnose yourself with Alzheimer's disease, take heart: Experts say some memory lapses are normal.
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Time: Memory's Worst Enemy continued...

But memory loss can happen even before we hit our 50s. Many people even in their 20s and 30s have forgotten a name or an appointment date or some fact that was on the "tip of their tongue." Memory is tricky, and time is its worst enemy, says Zola. In fact, shortly after taking in information, memory traces begin to deteriorate, he explains. "Some things begin to fade right away, other things fade less quickly, and they're a bunch of different forgetting curves with different rates of forgetting depending the nature of the material, depending on how important it is for you, depending on your stress level, depending on ... all of the things that can affect memory."

If you've ever gotten into heated debate with someone about how a past event or experience transpired, there's a likely reason. You may think you have a vivid memory of an experience, but studies show that after awhile, people probably don't remember events as they actually happened. Memory distortion -- also a side effect of father time -- explains this. This is the phenomenon where as time passes our ability to accurately recall events becomes diminished -- and the longer the period of time that passes between the event and trying to recall it, the greater the chance we're going to have some memory distortions and forgetting. Sometimes time distortion causes us to forget the event totally, Zola explains.

Other Causes of Memory Loss

But even if you think your slips of the old noggin aren't normal, there could be other reasons for it short of Alzheimer's disease, including:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Metabolic diseases such as thyroid gland diseases, diabetes, and lung, liver, or kidney failure
  • Alcoholism
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Infections
  • Drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter

The good news is, causes of memory loss from many of these conditions are normally reversible. Zola says depression and stress are the most common reasons for temporary memory problems.

"If your encoding isn't good, you're not going to get the information in properly, and so you're going to have difficulty retrieving it because it isn't there in good form to retrieve. So that's the kind of memory problem associated with depression, or with attention deficit disorder, as its name implies, you have trouble paying attention and focusing."

Stress affects the way the brain processes memory, Zola tells WebMD. "So it's not so surprising that you have memory problems often during very stressful states because part of the brain is not engaged in the way it needs to ordinarily be in order to have good memory."

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