Is Your Memory Normal?
Before you diagnose yourself with Alzheimer's disease, take heart: Experts say some memory lapses are normal.
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
- Stress and anxiety
- Metabolic diseases such as thyroid gland diseases, diabetes, and lung, liver, or kidney failure
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- 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
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."
Use It or Lose It
No matter how "normal" memory lapses may be, let's face it,
that doesn't make them any less frustrating. Experts agree that the best way to
keep your brain fit is to keep using it.
"People should realize that they have more control than they
think, that one-third [of memory loss] is genetics, that means we have the
potential to influence a large component of our brain aging," Gary Small, MD,
author of The Memory Bible: An innovative Strategy for Keeping Your Brain
Young, and director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the UCLA
psychiatric institute tells WebMD. "The sooner we get started, the sooner we're
going to benefit from it."
Small emphasizes four things in his books to slow down brain
aging: mental activity, physical fitness, stress reduction, and healthy diet.
"People who eat too much are at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
diabetes, and other conditions that increase their risk for small strokes in
the brain. Secondly, you want to have a diet that's rich in antioxidants."
Small says antioxidants help protect brain cells and exercise helps with
Staying intellectually and socially engaged are "probably the
most important things you can do to help extend and maintain your cognitive
abilities for a longer period of time in life," Zola says. Challenging oneself
by learning new things, reading, and taking up hobbies keep the brain active
and strong for the long haul.
Some other things you can do to improve memory include:
- Focus your attention. Forgetfulness may indicate that you have too
much on your mind. Slow down and focus on the task at hand. Small says
multitasking and not paying attention are some of the biggest causes of
forgetfulness, especially in younger people.
- Reduce stress. Stress can endanger the brain areas involved with
memory processing and impair memory.
- Choose to snooze. Zola says sleep is important because fatigue can
affect memory and concentration in any age group.
- Structure your environment. Use calendars and clocks, lists and
notes, and write down daily activities on a planner or use an electric
organizer. Store easy-to-lose items in the same place each time after using
them. Park your car in the same place at the office each day.
- Try memory tricks. To remember a person's name, repeat it several
times after being introduced. Use the same personal identification number (PIN)
for all of your accounts if necessary.