Forgetting where you left your phone is something we all do once in a while—and it’s usually nothing to worry about.
As we age though, these memory lapses can make us wonder if our so-called “senior moments” are becoming a problem.
We asked neurologist Dr. Patrick Lyden to help us sort out what’s normal and when we should be concerned.
Q: What memory changes are considered normal as I age?
Dr. Lyden: Often people over the age of 50 begin to forget names and specific information. They may misplace their keys more often or need to pause and remember directions. But memory lapses shouldn’t interfere with daily tasks like paying bills, brushing teeth, and getting dressed.
Q: When should I seek help?
Dr. Lyden: It’s a matter of if forgetting is getting worse and to what degree. If you’re frequently forgetting things that you always remembered before, that can be a red flag for mental deterioration or the onset of dementia.
In general, if you are worried enough to ask yourself this question, you should speak to your doctor. They can help determine if a specialist, like a neurologist, is needed. A neurologist can help investigate what’s causing those lapses in memory.
Q: What can harm my memory or make it worse?
Cigarette smoking is detrimental to your overall health and memory.
Have your doctor take a look at your prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some medications can cause memory loss as a side effect, and it tends to happen more in older people.
Lack of sleep
Sleep helps your brain store memories. The goal is to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. And a lack of sleep is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What can I do to improve my memory?
10 to 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise has been shown to prevent memory loss. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re physically healthy enough to do this. Exercising can help prevent memory loss and preserve brain health long into your 90s.
Previous studies suggest a Mediterranean diet is linked with longer preservation of memory. This diet consists of plant-based foods, whole grains, and fish—as well as less red and processed meats.
It’s OK to forget things from time to time, but if you or a loved one has concerns about memory loss, it’s important to consult with a doctor. They’ll be able to investigate if those lapses are a sign of something more serious.