Forgetfulness is something we all experience, sometimes, even a few times a day. 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 seek medical attention.
Forgetfulness: Different types
Here are a few examples:
Normal: 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?
Danger Sign: 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.
Normal: 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.
Danger Sign: 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.
Normal: 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.
Danger Sign: You can’t work your stove. You forget the rules of bridge or basketball or tennis, games you’ve played or watched for decades.
Normal: 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.
Danger Sign: You can’t find your way home or get lost or feel confused in places you know well.
What Do Danger Signs Mean?
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.
Do all the usual things that are good for you: Be social, get exercise, eat well, sleep enough, and don’t smoke. Drink in moderation. 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 writing a blog, volunteering on your school board, or tending a garden. There are a million and one ways to be productive and keep mentally busy.
Watch this demonstration showing the difference between normal forgetfulness and dementia: