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Keep Calm and ... How’s That Go Again?

Odds are, you won’t be as flexible at age 60 as you were at 20. Or as fast. Or strong. Time affects your body, and your brain comes right along for the ride. Connections between brain cells that make and pull up memories change as we age. And the proteins and hormones that do upkeep in our brains don’t work as well. As we get older, it’s good to know the difference between typical forgetfulness and something you probably should mention to your doctor.

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It’s Not All in the Details

Typical: You forget to meet up with a friend but remember later on. You recall that wedding last year, but you’re a little hazy on who was there. You had that great phone call with Henry last week, but what does he do for work again?

Warning: You miss appointments left and right. You ask friends and family for details over and over again. You forget about events you went to recently or conversations you just had.

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Beware the Numbers

Typical: You make a mistake balancing your checkbook once in a while. You forget to pay a bill here and there. Or you just added 3 tablespoons of sugar instead of teaspoons.

Warning: It’s harder to focus, make a plan, and solve problems. Numbers feel like a foreign language, making it tough to follow a recipe or make sense of your household budget.

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When It’s Not Just Fun and Games

Typical: You need help setting the clock on the microwave or recording your favorite show. You blank for a minute on whether a straight beats a flush in poker or if it’s the other way around.

Warning: You can’t work your stove. You forget the rules of bridge or basketball or tennis, games you’ve played or watched for decades.

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Where Did I Put That?

Typical: You check your pockets, the kitchen table, your car. You go back over all your steps before, “Ah! My keys.”

Warning: You put things in odd places, like your phone ends up in the freezer. You can’t remember what steps to retrace, or you blame someone for stealing things.

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What’s Today Again?

Typical: Once in a while you have to stop and think about what day it is, but it comes to you, even if takes a bit.

Warning: The whole idea of time is confusing. You get what’s happening now, but trying to think about something that happened last week or is coming up tomorrow leaves you feeling lost.

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How Did I Get Here?

Typical: You stroll into the kitchen and can’t for the life of you remember why. You forget the occasional street name when giving directions. It might take a beat or two, but you remember how to get to familiar places.

Warning: You can’t find your way home or get lost or feel confused in places you know well.

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Hand Me the Whatchamacallit

Typical: You forget the name of something. It’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite reel it in.

Warning: You call things by the wrong name, sometimes really odd ones. ”Spoon” might come out “bed.” You stop in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what you were saying. You have a hard time following conversations.

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I Just Want a Little ‘Me’ Time

Typical: The mix of work, family, and social demands leaves you wiped out and craving down time, even from things you like.

Warning: You can’t keep up with sports teams you normally follow. You try to get out of spending time with people to hide the problems you’re having.

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Good Ol’ What’s His Name

Typical : You swear you almost have it, it’s right there, but … gahh! You just spaced on your friend’s name. Or you just called your grandson by your son’s name instead.

Warning: You actually can’t remember your son’s name.

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Lapses in Self-Care

Typical: You rush out of the house without brushing your teeth. Or, worse, zipping your fly.

Warning: It’s not just that you don’t remember to do things, you don’t recall how. You’re halfway through getting dressed and find yourself confused.

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Seriously, It’s Not an Issue

Typical: You’re concerned about your memory, but your family’s not. You remember when you forget things and what that moment feels like.

Warning: Your family’s worried about you, but you don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re not aware that it’s happening.

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If It’s Not Typical, Then What?

Lots of things can cause memory problems. People often worry about Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. That’s one possibility, but other things can be behind it, and some of those can be reversed. For example, It could be a lack of B12, a vitamin that’s key for your brain. Or depression, a thyroid problem, or even not drinking enough fluids.

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When to See Your Doctor

If any of those warning signs sounded familiar or it’s affecting your daily life -- your work, hobbies, and relationships -- go to your doctor. It’s also a good idea to see him if someone close to you wants you to get checked out. Normal memory problems can make you pause a moment, but they don’t keep you from going about your life.

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How to Prevent Memory Loss

Do all the usual things that are good for you: Be social, get exercise, eat well, sleep enough, and don’t smoke. Think of your brain like a muscle -- use it or lose it. Play games like crosswords and Sudoku. Read books or magazines that challenge you. Learn a foreign language or a new instrument. Do projects that take planning, like quilting or a garden.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 09/18/2017 Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on September 18, 2017

SOURCES:

 

Harvard Health Publications: “Forgetfulness — 7 types of normal memory problems.”

HelpGuide.org: “Age-Related Memory Loss.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's.”

Alzheimer’s Australia: “Memory Changes.”

PSS Circle of Care: “Just normal forgetfulness…. or Memory Loss?”

Alzheimer Society Canada: “Normal aging vs dementia.”

Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation: “Just Forgetful, or Is It Dementia?”

National Institute on Aging: “Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer's Disease?”

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on September 18, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.