Aging can affect our memory in a variety of ways, much like aging affects our physical abilities. Physically, we notice ourselves slowing down, unable to do that which we easily able to do when younger. But what about our memory? When we forget something, is it normal or a cause for concern?
The fact is that as we age, connections between brain cells that make and pull up memories change. And the proteins and hormones that do upkeep in our brains don’t work as well. So, as we get older, it’s good to know the difference between typical forgetfulness and something we probably should mention to your doctor.
Let’s examine what can be considered normal memory as we age and what is a potential warning.
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.
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.
Aging: Everyday Tasks
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.
Aging: I Can’t Find It?
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.
Aging: Time And Dates?
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.
Aging: Where Am I?
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.
Aging: What Do You Call That?
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.
Aging: Down Time Or Serious Memory Deficit
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.
Aging: 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.
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.
Aging: Don’t Worry, 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.
Aging: Typical Or a Major Problem?
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.
Aging: See A 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.
Aging: Prevention Is The Best Cure
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.