Skip to content

Women's Health

Font Size
A
A
A

Why Do I Forget Things?

Memory loss isn't due to your age or your gender. It's due to 'interference.'
By Colleen Oakley
WebMD Magazine - Feature

You walk into the kitchen with purpose, then stand in the doorway wondering what you went in there to do. Add to your grocery list? Look for your keys? Get a glass of water? Who knows? Your mind is completely blank.

"Though we jokingly refer to these as 'senior moments,' they happen to everyone -- from the very young to the very old," says Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, founding director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

Recommended Related to Women

4 Medications That Can Cause or Worsen Incontinence

If you are showing signs of urinary incontinence or if your incontinence problem seems to be getting worse, take stock of your medicine cabinet. Not for a new remedy, but to find overlooked causes of incontinence, or the explanation for your worsening symptoms. Commonly recommended medications could be the cause of your incontinence, or at least contributing to them. Medications affect people differently, so one person with incontinence may not notice worsening symptoms, while another person...

Read the 4 Medications That Can Cause or Worsen Incontinence article > >

Gazzaley has spent years researching memory issues using brain-imaging technology. "Your brain works as a series of networks, with different areas communicating with each other at all times," he says. "When you're trying to remember something, your brain establishes a new network. Memory glitches occur when there's a break in that network." 

What causes the break? Interference, which impairs your ability to focus. Interference can be anything from your cellphone ringing to background chatter at a restaurant to your mind wandering. "We've found that when a person is exposed to interference, their ability to recall info, even over very short periods of time, declines significantly," says Gazzaley.

Preventing Memory Loss

Some people can maintain their networks in the face of interference -- you know, those friends who never forget a face or always remember everybody's birthday. Why is that? "Some people are better at maintaining or reactivating their networks than others, and that's the main focus of our research right now -- understanding what causes the individual variability of memory," says Gazzaley.

What can you do? Try to limit interference. "You can't always shut off the world, but you can learn how to focus your attention on the task at hand," says Gazzaley. So if you go into the kitchen to write something down on your grocery list, don't answer your cellphone or let your mind wander to a meeting that morning. "Mentally rehearse what you're doing, and hold it in mind, until you're finished with the task," he says.

You can also train your brain to recall information by practicing. "Our brains have plasticity, or the ability to get better at something when challenged," says Gazzaley. "I often test my memory so that it continues to get better." Try this: Next time you go to the grocery store, don't make a list, and see how many items you can remember. "Four or five is my sweet spot," he says. "Nine is pushing it."

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
 
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
insomnia
Is it menopause or something else?
 
woman in bathtub
Slideshow
Doctor discussing screening with patient
VIDEO
 
bp app on smartwatch and phone
Slideshow
ovaries in body model
Article
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
Slideshow
hot water bottle on stomach
Quiz
 
question
Assessment
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
Quiz