Unpredictable, frustrating and, at times, embarrassing memory lapses are moments many of us would rather forget. Yet if frequent bouts of forgetfulness are causing you stress and worry, take note-there is most likely a simple explanation.
Random memory problems
There is a big difference between losing cognitive function in the brain--or losing the ability to remember--and simply having difficulty recalling information. Most commonly, random memory problems are associated with the normal aging process or are a result of lifestyle stresses.
To understand the memory process, think of the brain as a system of roads and each memory as a different destination. Just as roads are used to reach each destination, repetition, association, and other mental cues are used to access memories. The more roads leading to and from each memory, the easier it will be for a person to find it when they need to.
Changes in memory are a natural part of the aging process. As early as age 40, people may start to notice the roads to memory beginning to wear. Things may not be as easy to recall as they used to, or it may take more effort to retain new memories.
Memory loss in people of all ages can also be the result of increased pressures in daily life. Depression, stress, and fatigue can overload the mind with information and form roadblocks to memories.
Improving your memory
So how can a person improve their ability to remember? One of the best ways is to work on building more roads, or connections, to memories.
Visual and word associations have been helpful throughout our learning process. Routines and repetition are also good methods to help someone remember things. For example, leaving your car keys in the same spot every day can reduce frustration, and posting notes about important information can help you recall upcoming events.
Organization and simplification can also be effective to improve memory. Writing lists, keeping a journal, and attempting to reduce the amount of information you handle at one time can help greatly.
While improvements in memory can be made, individual people have different abilities in how they remember things. This ability does not relate to a person's likelihood of developing serious memory problems later in life.
While the majority of memory troubles are not cause for concern, some can be an indicator of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. One red flag is repeating things more than once during a short time period, such as telling someone the same story twice or paying a bill twice because they can't recall if it was paid.
People with hypertension, diabetes, depression, or thyroid problems can be at risk of developing serious memory problems if their condition is not properly controlled. Those with questions or concerns about memory loss should contact their primary care provider.