In an ideal world, we could do without notebooks or a telephone, relying entirely on our memory when we need to remember a date, a name, or something else equally important. Nevertheless, forgetting information is normal: this way the brain saves energy for the data more important. Sometimes blackouts make you start worrying about your health, because forgetfulness is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. This ten-point checklist will help you understand when your forgetfulness is a variant of the norm, and when it is a harbinger of a serious problem.
Before, your memory seems to have been better
Aging processes are inevitable and memory is one of the first things to suffer from age-related changes. But the fact that with age we remember and remember worse does not mean a serious problem. With a natural age-related decline in memory, the mind and consciousness remain unchanged. In dementia, for example, impairments affect not only the working memory, but also the ability to write, speak, perceive information and concentrate on the task, that is, it becomes difficult to perform simple actions.
If cognitive impairment is excluded, it is believed that with mental training, a good memory can be possessed even in old age. Moreover, different types of memory reach their greatest potential at a certain age. For example, at twenty-two years old, memorization of unfamiliar names is best given, at thirty-two – new faces, and from fifty years old – new information is learned. That is, if you don’t memorize numbers or names as easily as you used to, perhaps your brain’s activity is simply directed toward something else.
You can’t remember the word that spins on the tongue
Situations when the right word seems to have failed and at the same time it is very close, spinning on the tip of the tongue, is a common thing for each of us, but they are not at all necessarily associated with age-related changes and diseases; it is definitely not worth judging by this phenomenon of impending dementia. Most likely, after some time (from a couple of minutes to several days), the forgotten word will pop up by itself or be remembered thanks to the associative row.
Researchers argue that the trigger for recall can be other words starting with the same letter or matching the number of syllables with the desired one. And for bilinguals, who, by the way, are more likely to face a similar problem, an equivalent from a second language helps in resolving the issue. But external stimuli do not always lead us to the right word, and, on the contrary, can interfere with memory recovery. Shielding yourself from distractions (sound and especially visual) may make it easier to focus on what you’ve forgotten.
You have so many things to
do that you forget some of them.
It is almost impossible to keep everything in your head, especially when some tasks are priorities and require maximum concentration. To make room for new information, the brain erases unnecessary memories that we rarely refer to (for example, if we think in the morning that we need to go to the dry cleaning on our way back, and then we will not remember it once a day). Unsurprisingly, if you get stuck at work, you will most likely forget to pick up your dry-cleaners – it’s just not as important as preparing a presentation for a burning project.
Sometimes, in addition to physical workload, stress also weighs on us. Research has shown that increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) correlate with weakening connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex . The prefrontal cortex is associated with the formation of working memory, therefore, under the influence of stress, we remember poorly and retain information worse. You can solve the problem if you try to worry less and not neglect a well-deserved rest. Unfortunately, chronic stress can lead to the fact that synapses (connections between neurons) are completely destroyed, so it is better to take measures on time.
You don’t sleep well and you don’t remember well.
Lack of sleep also negatively affects mental activity. The fact is that while we sleep, one of the tasks of the brain is to process and retain the information received during the day (the researchers found that the transition to the deep sleep phase promotes consolidation , when information from short-term memory passes into long-term memory). But as soon as something disrupts the process, the memories are not stored so well, and some of them are simply not stored in long-term memory.
Sleep deprivation leads to changes in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for memory consolidation, as well as attention and learning ability. If you keep forgetting something, maybe it’s time to get into sleep hygiene : go to bed early at the same time, ventilate the bedroom, get dark curtains and stop taking gadgets with you to bed.
You do not remember closing the door or turning off the iron
This has happened to almost everyone: on the way to the office or institute, a slight panic suddenly arises – you do not remember whether you turned off the tap or turned off the stove. In fact, there is most likely nothing to worry about – you do not remember about these actions just because they are brought to automatism. We forget about such operations and unknowingly start the “autopilot” mode because our brain conserves energy.
Habitual actions have been repeatedly worked out and are well known to us, in the process there will not be new information: if you grew up in Russia, then with a high probability you will shove a scarf and a hat into the sleeve of your coat , handing it over to the wardrobe, without even thinking. Therefore, the brain is simply not wasted on the work of the areas that activate the working memory – it is better to use it to memorize new information.
You are taking medications that impair your memory
Many of these factors affect almost any person (we all work a lot and do not sleep enough), and it is not so easy to track down what exactly caused forgetfulness. But if you are taking drugs, the components of which can impair memory, it is enough to observe your condition after they are canceled. Perhaps the drugs are to blame for everything, and then the memory will be restored in a couple of days, because the brain is constantly creating new neural connections.
The ideal option is to find out about the possible side effects of the medication in advance and ask your doctor if there are any sparing analogues. With caution in this regard, it is worth treating drugs that suppress anxiety, lower cholesterol levels, antidepressants, first generation antihistamine pills, sleeping pills and some others.
You pass out by drinking too much
The main horror of a hangover for many is that some episode of the party is hopelessly forgotten – even worse if yesterday’s events are completely erased from memory. This happens if the blood alcohol content has risen sharply, and for a partial memory loss, not so much alcohol is enough. In this case, if you intensively remember how the events developed, they can be restored.
With a complete shutdown, the memory leaves a person at a certain moment – and then morning awakening begins. Such failures occur because alcohol disrupts the hippocampus; episodic memory (which, for example, stores information about the time, place and other things related to the event) suffers from this, and long-term memories cannot be formed. The more alcohol you drink, the more it will damage your memory. If you regularly lose your memory due to the amount of alcohol you drink, most likely you need to think about – just not about the oncoming dementia, but about alcohol abuse .
Memory Training Helps You
To strengthen your weakening memory, you can do special exercises that will improve overall brain function. Scientists have not yet agreed on whether such exercises are effective for everyone, but note that they work rather than the other way around. For Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, this will only be a prevention , not a cure, that is, it is better to deal with them in advance – and if exercise does not help you concentrate and remember, you should see a doctor.
Exercises to strengthen memory can be found on the Internet, but any switch from the usual tasks performed on the machine to new ones helps. You can do crosswords, solve puzzles, or help kids solve math problems without turning on the calculator. Learn and use foreign languages: constantly switching from one language to another helps prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Your loved ones had early dementia
Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common types of dementia, most often develops after age 65 – but in 9% of cases, dementia begins at a younger age. For risk factors apply, including family history, that is, the risk increases if the Alzheimer’s faced someone from parents or siblings. If, with such a family history, you notice systematic memory lapses or, for example, find yourself disoriented in space and time, then it is better to see a doctor without delay. By the way, constantly depressed mood or irritability can also be harbingers of dementia – do not write off such changes in a loved one on the fact that with age he simply developed a bad character.
You should not panic: if you diagnose the disease at an early stage, then the treatment will be much more effective; researchers are constantly working to improve drugs and strive to eliminate the causes that cause the disease. But if treatment is abandoned, Alzheimer’s disease will only progress. It affects and destroys brain cells, preventing them from transmitting information to each other, which leads to impaired speech, attention, ability to solve problems and other problems.
You’ve had physical injuries
Memory interruptions can also occur due to physical damage or compression of the brain – as a result of trauma, surgery, and even tumors. Post-traumatic amnesia can occur due to trauma or surgery, in which, as a rule, short-term memory suffers. A person may lose thought during a conversation or get lost in a familiar store (one of the symptoms of such amnesia is the desire to wander ). This condition can last from several minutes to several months, depending on the extent of the damage. In most cases, memory is gradually restored, but it is better not to let things take their course and, after a serious blow to the head, see a doctor.
Serious causes of memory impairment are problems caused by compression of the brain tissue, such as a growing tumor or hemorrhage from a stroke. But such diseases are manifested by several signs at once: in addition to memory, other cognitive functions (attention, judgment) are impaired, as well as speech and movement in different parts of the body. In general, if you just sometimes forget names or faces, do not panic and run to the oncologist – it is quite possible that you need to sleep and go on vacation.