We can all be forgetful at times, misplacing keys, or losing our train of thought while talking, but it is useful to know what is normal, what is not, and when it is the right time to seek help.
Stress and Memory Loss
Feeling stressed affects both our ability to recall information and to form new memories, that’s why it’s often difficult to learn new things when we feel under pressure.
So if you are finding it difficult to remember things accurately, or having trouble taking on new information, then it is worth thinking about your general stress levels at the time.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to alleviate both stress and related memory problems at the same time.
Practising some self-care is essential – sleeping and eating well can make a big difference. Mindfulness, breathing exercises and getting regular exercise all help your body relieve and reduce stress.
The NHS’s Every Mind Matters website has lots of resources to help you manage stress.
Ageing and Memory Loss
As we get older, we can start to slow down. This can mean it takes longer to learn new information or recall something we already knew.
If the information does come to mind, just a little slower than you are used to, then that is more likely a natural, age-related change in brain function.
The normal ageing process of your brain does not inevitably lead to significant memory loss. Generally, being able to do things as you have always done, your collected life experiences and knowledge and common sense should be largely unaffected just by getting older.
Your Ability to Function
The biggest difference between normal age-related memory loss and a potential cognitive problem is whether you can still function.
Age-related memory loss might slow you down, but on its own, it won’t be disabling.
Difficulty carrying out a task that you would normally have found simple – like paying bills, doing the washing up, following directions – could be a warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that causes or mimics dementia.
|Normal age-related memory changes
|Possible symptoms of a cognitive problem
|Occasional memory lapses but can still function
|Frequently struggle to do simple tasks they have done numerous times previously.
|Can recall and describe when they have been forgetful
|Can’t recall or describe when they’ve been forgetful
|Doesn’t get lost in familiar places but may need to pause to remember directions
|Trouble following directions can get lost or disorientated in places they know
|Can hold a conversation, even if some words take a while to find
|Conversations are repetitive, with words often forgotten, said wrong or not used correctly.
|Judgement and decision-making ability is consistent
|Decisions making is difficult, with poor judgement or inappropriate social outcomes.
You can read more about dementia on the NHS website.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is when the normal age-related lapses or forgetfulness happen more often.
Frequently misplacing things, forgetting appointments or events or having trouble remembering new names can all be warning signs.
Again, displaying these sorts of symptoms does not make significant memory loss inevitable. Still, as with so many physical and mental conditions, it is best to seek help sooner rather than later. Early interventions can help reduce the risk of conditions developing further.
When to See a Doctor
If memory lapses become a concern to you, a family member or someone else close to you, then you should consider contacting your GP.
During your consultation, your Doctor will ask several questions to understand the problems you are experiencing.