Everyone has memory lapses. Sometimes we misplace our keys, forget where we parked the car, or lose our train of thought when talking to someone. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re experiencing cognitive decline or have dementia (what a relief!).  

Normal Forgetfulness vs. Age-Related Memory Loss vs. Dementia

Why you probably don’t have dementia

Before you diagnose yourself with dementia, you should know that memory lapses are normal – especially with age. 

It’s not uncommon for most people to notice a significant decline in their memory when they hit 50. However, memory loss can also happen to people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s due to a myriad of other reasons that have nothing to do with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These include stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, Vitamin B-12 deficiency, and medication.

Stress, for instance, affects the way your brain processes memories. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it’s harder to remember simple things when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Brain exercises, physical fitness, stress management, and a healthy diet can improve memory.

Age-related memory loss

If you’re still able to function independently despite occasional memory lapses, you’re probably just experiencing age-related memory changes. Another good sign is if you’re able to recall and acknowledge that you’ve had a memory lapse.

It’s perfectly fine if you have to pause to remember directions, as long as you don’t get lost in familiar places. 

It’s also okay if you sometimes struggle to find the right words, as long as you can hold a conversation without going off on a tangent, and your judgment and decision-making are fine. However, you should still take steps to delay age-related memory loss by living a healthy lifestyle.

 When to seek help for memory lapses

While memory lapses don’t necessarily mean you have dementia, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that it’s the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

Some warning signs include difficulty performing tasks that you’ve been doing all your life, like washing up or getting dressed, and an inability to recall instances when you experienced memory loss. It’s also a bad sign if you keep getting lost in familiar places, or start having trouble with decision-making.

Keep in mind that most people don’t go from occasional memory lapses to full-blown dementia overnight. They go through an intermediate stage known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The line between normal age-related memory changes and MCI isn’t all that clear.

Important: If you’re having trouble with language, thinking, and judgment, it’s probably a good time to seek medical help.

Occasionally misplacing your keys or forgetting someone’s name is totally normal. Just focus on exercising your brain and body regularly, better stress management, and a healthy diet.

However, if your memory problems seem to be more severe than those of other people your age, you should probably see a doctor. The best-case scenario? Your doctor says everything is fine and gives you more tips on how to improve your memory. Worst case scenario? There’s something more going on that you and your doctor can catch early, and can put a gameplan in place. 

Either way, if you’re still worried about any memory problems after reading this article, please see your doctor as soon as possible.

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