What Causes Forgetfulness & Memory Loss in Older Adults?

Unexpected forgetfulness can be frightening and embarrassing. You might be looking at the calendar when you realize your sister’s birthday was yesterday and you hadn’t even realized. What’s happening? Is something seriously wrong with you?

Unfortunately, memory loss is a common part of aging. Some studies estimate that 40% of older adults experience some form of memory impairment. Though only 1% of those cases progress into dementia, memory loss doesn’t have to be as severe as dementia to negatively impact your life.

Let’s go over some of the most common causes of forgetfulness and find out some ways to help gain back your memory loss.

Common causes of forgetfulness

There may be a number of potential causes for your forgetfulness. These can include:

  • Lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is a surefire way to impact your memory. The less sleep you get, the less able your brain is to focus and process memory correctly. Sleeping can help speed up your thinking and get you ready for the day.
  • Certain medications. It’s normal to take medications to help you manage chronic conditions, but be aware that some of these medications may have memory loss as a side effect. Antidepressants, narcotics, sleeping aids, antihistamines and cholesterol medications can all come with possible memory loss in older adults.
  • Emotional distress. Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are commonly linked to forgetfulness and memory loss. Many describe the feeling of memory loss to be a “brain fog” or like your memory is being blocked.
  • Head trauma or injury. Any time you hit your head, it’s possible that you may experience memory loss as a result. Even mild concussions have been known to cause memory loss. After a hit to the head, you should be examined by a medical professional to check for any bleeding or swelling in your brain.
  • Dementia. Severe memory loss may signal worsening dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Though memory loss is not usually a sign of dementia, symptoms like social withdrawal or forgetfulness that disrupts your daily life can be a legitimate cause for concern. Address these concerns with your doctor as soon as possible to receive proper treatment.  

When should I be concerned about memory loss?

It’s likely that your forgetfulness is part of age appropriate memory impairment (AAMI). Usually striking in your 50s, AAMI may case you to forget small pieces of information like zip codes or misplace objects you just had. It’s only when memory loss becomes repeated and severe that it is worthy of concern. You may spot signs like:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Forgetting and mixing up words
  • Failing to complete familiar tasks
  • Losing track of the time of year
  • Inability to hold a conversation

Experiencing some of these symptoms occasionally doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be concerned. While you should always make note of memory loss, minor incidents of forgetfulness that happen sparingly usually aren’t indicative of worse problems. Be vigilant in monitoring when you or a loved one experience memory loss — when you become concerned, seek out the help of a trusted doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms.

How can I combat forgetfulness?

Just because you experience forgetfulness doesn’t mean your memory is gone for good. There are many habits you can adopt that can help you to keep your mind sharp. First, take some time to get organized. Excess clutter in your life limits your ability to focus, making it harder for you to recall the task at hand. Focus on limiting yourself to the essentials you need to live — for instance, you may not need 300 contacts in your phone when you only call 30 of them.

Staying physically and mentally active is your best line of defense against forgetfulness. Find a way to engage with others, whether in casual conversation or competing in a game of cards or a chess match. Take it upon yourself to learn a new hobby, especially one that challenges you physically like jogging or gardening. As long as you are keeping your brain active, your memory can endure for years to come.

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