No one likes to forget things. Whether it's a misplaced credit card or a name you can't recall, memory problems are upsetting. They can also cost you time and money. If you have had some memory issues, you may wonder — is your memory normal for your age?
Some memory loss goes along with getting older. Forgetfulness also can be due to health problems such as dementia. But even young people can forget things.
Are memory problems normal?
Certain types of memory problems are very common. You have probably experienced some of these:
- Transience. If you've ever felt that things don't stick in your mind, you're probably right. If your brain held on to every bit of information, it would soon be clogged with unnecessary trivia. Instead, the brain cleans house regularly, usually getting rid of knowledge that you haven't used lately.
- Absent-mindedness. This type of memory lapse occurs when you don't pay attention. Maybe you can't remember your new neighbors' names because you were distracted when they introduced themselves. This kind of forgetfulness happens to everyone, young and old.
- Blocking. This memory lapse occurs when you know something but can't retrieve it. There's a block between your mind and the information you need. This type of forgetfulness occurs more often as you age. About half the time you're able to retrieve the information within one minute.
- Misattribution. Misattribution occurs when you recall an experience but get details wrong. This type of memory lapse is common as you get older. You have more memories, and some of them degrade as you age. Misattribution often causes arguments about exactly when or where something happened.
Memory problems in young people
Although memory declines somewhat with age, even teenagers can be forgetful. The adolescent brain grows rapidly and isn't well-organized. Even highly responsible teens may forget things. The information just gets lost in their brains.
Young adults and people who are middle-aged can have memory problems, too. In one survey, about 14% of those aged 18 to 39 reported problems with forgetting, as did 22% of those aged 40 to 59. Researchers found that poor health and lifestyle choices caused forgetfulness. Factors that increased the risk of memory problems included stress, depression, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise.
Multitasking can cause memory problems. Young people who use multiple electronic devices may have trouble focusing. This lack of focus can keep information from sticking.
Memory problems in older people
Most experts agree that some memory loss is normal with aging. They don't always agree about the causes. One explanation is loss of cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain.
As they age, all mammals show some memory problems related to the hippocampus. Since humans are mammals, it's reasonable to think that humans will, too. Memory loss could also result from slowed circulation in the brain or from changes in hormone levels.
Normal memory loss in humans usually affects episodic memory. That's the memory that governs our daily lives. Episodic memory tells us where we're supposed to go, when we should be there, and what to do when we arrive.
Is it dementia?
Forgetfulness can disrupt your life in little ways. You may have to rebook appointments, pay late fees, or replace lost items. Dementia disrupts your life in big ways. You may:
- Forget how to do everyday tasks
- Get lost in familiar places
- Have trouble following directions
- Repeat yourself during the same conversation
- Forget, mix up, or misuse words
- Show poor judgment
- Act in socially unacceptable ways
Another difference is that those with normal memory loss can recall, discuss, and laugh about episodes of forgetfulness. Those with dementia can't.
Other causes of memory problems
Other conditions can cause forgetfulness. Older people are more at risk for some of these conditions, such as dehydration. But no matter what your age, your memory can be affected by:
- Anxiety and depression
- Side effects of medications
- Substance abuse
- Thyroid disorders
- Poor diet
What to do about memory problems
Talk to your doctor if you are worried about forgetfulness. Your doctor may give you some tests or refer you to a specialist. If your diagnosis is dementia, your doctor will suggest medications and other steps that can help.
- If your memory is normal for your age, you can protect it with these steps:
- Take care of your health. Address any medical or psychological issues you have.
- Make positive lifestyle changes. Exercise more, improve your diet, get enough sleep, and reduce stress. Don't smoke.
- Don't overuse alcohol or medications. Get help if you have problems with substance abuse.
- Have your sight and hearing tested. Use eyeglasses and hearing aids if you need them, so you can take in information.
- Use memory aids. Make lists and keep a calendar. Develop a routine and follow it. Keep things in place.
- Enjoy a rich social life. Interact with others. Socializing is great for the brain and can improve your mood.
- Keep using your brain. Explore fresh interests. Try to learn something new every day.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
HelpGuide: "Age-Related Memory Loss."
JAMA Neurology: "Age-Related Memory Decline: Current Concepts and Future Directions."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Forgetfulness — 7 types of normal memory problems."
National Institute on Aging: "Memory, Forgetfulness, and Aging: What's Normal and What's Not?"
UCLA Newsroom: "Poor health, lifestyle factors linked to memory complaints, even among younger adults."
University of Wisconsin-Madison: "The Absent Minded Teen: “Someone stole part of my kid’s brain.”
Top Is My Memory Normal for My Age Related Articles
Aging: The Surprises of Getting OlderWhat surprising health changes happen as you grow older? Learn about the memory and brain changes in aging adults, increases in happiness and sexual satisfaction, sleep difficulties, changes in stress, self confidence, and disease or infections. Learn the super powers of aging adults, as well as common struggles.
Alzheimer's DiseaseAlzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia. Symptoms and warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, disorientation to time and place, misplacing things, and more. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is increased age. Treatment for Alzheimer's is often targeted toward decreasing the symptoms and progression of the disease.
7 Alzheimer's Disease Stages and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease depend on the stage of the disease. Some doctors and researchers disagree in regard to the number of stages of Alzheimer's disease (from 1 to 7 stages). The Global Deterioration Scale or GDS identifies seven stages of Alzheimer's disease that include stage 1 (no impairment), stage 2 (very mild cognitive decline), stage 3 (mild cognitive decline), stage 4 (moderate cognitive decline), stage 5 (moderately severe decline), stage 6 (severe decline), and stage 7 (very severe decline). There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, however, there are drugs and therapies to help the symptoms Alzheimer's disease causes.
Dementia Foods: Foods that May Lower Dementia RiskWhat foods are associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia? Cognitive function is predicated on good nutrition. Learn how vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like fish can lead to a healthier brain. Discover why foods that stave off heart disease are good for brain function.
DementiaDementia is defined as a significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity, severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning. There are several different types of dementia, including cortical, subcortical, progressive, primary, and secondary dementias. Other conditions and medication reactions can also cause dementia. Dementia is diagnosed based on a certain set of criteria. Treatment for dementia is generally focused on the symptoms of the disease.
The Stages of Dementia: Alzheimer's Disease and Aging BrainsWhat are the symptoms of dementia? What causes dementia? Dementia includes many disorders, such as Lewy Body dementia, Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and more. Learn the warning signs of dementia.
What Is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's?Dementia is a group of symptoms (syndrome) characterized by a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning. Although dementia is a cluster of symptoms, Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressive disorder of the brain that destroys memory and thinking skills.
Early Warning Signs and Stages of DementiaDementia is a decline and or loss of behavior of mental abilities, loss of judgment, language, and reasoning. Early warning signs of dementia include misplacing items, difficulty planning or problem solving, poor work performance, difficulty doing familiar tasks, and withdrawal from social activities.
There are seven stages of dementia that range from stage 1, with no cognitive decline to stage 7, which is severe dementia.
Memory QuizWhat makes things easy to remember or forget? Take this quiz to learn about your amazing brain!
phosphatidylserinePhosphatidylserine is a fatty substance (phospholipid) that is part of the membranes of the brain's nerve cells (neurons). Taken as a supplement, phosphatidylserine is used to prevent memory loss and improve cognitive function in elderly patients and to improve focus in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common side effects of phosphatidylserine include sleeplessness (insomnia), gas (flatulence), and stomach upset. Consult with your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Managing Concentration Killers: Smartphones, Social Media, and MoreFinding it hard to concentrate? If you lack focus and attention, it may be internet addiction or the negative effects of social media on your mental health. Learn how to stop intrusive thoughts, manage stress with stress balls, fatigue causes like B-12 deficiency, and how ADHD may be managed with a weighted blanket.
piracetamPiracetam is a nootropic medication (general cognitive enhancer) used to boost cognition and memory in conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and to treat myoclonus, a condition that causes brief muscle spasms and other neurological conditions. In the United States, piracetam is not approved by the FDA and is classified as a new unapproved drug. Common side effects of piracetam include hyperactivity and muscle spasm (hyperkinesia), drowsiness (somnolence), sleeplessness (insomnia), nervousness, depression, weakness and lack of energy (asthenia), weight gain, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rash. Do not take piracetam if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What Are the Seven Stages of Lewy Body Dementia?Lewy body dementia (LBD) or dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is associated with protein deposits in the brain that cause disruptions in the normal functioning of the brain. Diagnosing the disease is extremely tough because its symptoms may resemble other brain diseases. There are seven stages of Lewy body dementia.
What Are the Signs of Early Onset Dementia?Early onset dementia is rare and difficult to diagnose. Learn about early signs of dementia that may indicate that something is wrong.
Why Do I Forget Things Easily?Forgetting things is quite common. You may forget things easily due to aging, Alzheimer's disease, stress, head injury, medications and other reasons.