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Small lapses in memory can happen at any age, but it’s not uncommon to find ourselves a little more forgetful than usual as we get older. Problems related to memory can indicate a serious condition, such as dementia and Parkinson’s, or a more common and manageable issue, like stress or lack of sleep. Knowing the differences between these natural memory lapses and the warning signs of something serious is key to helping you better understand your mental health and get support if needed.

Remembering events
Episodic memory involves the ability to learn, store, and recover information about our personal life and experiences, such as the birth of your first child or the name of the city you grew up in. According to the American Psychological Association, our episodic memory naturally declines somewhat over time. This normal decrease in brain function can cause you to forget an appointment every now and then, or even the day of the week. Signs of significant memory loss, however, can include forgetting important dates, like your birthday or the current year, and important events, such as the death of a close family member or the election of our current president. According to GoodRx, depression is associated with difficulty remembering past events or forgetting the event entirely. Depression can also increase the risk of other memory-related health problems, like Alzheimer’s.

If you have ever mixed up people’s names while talking, or struggled to express your thoughts out loud even though you knew exactly what you wanted to say in your head, you’re not alone. According to Harvard Health, areas in our brain that are involved with memory processing change over time. As a result, it takes longer to gather, process, and remember new information as we age. With that being said, it’s very common to not be able to quickly or correctly recall certain things. But there are levels of confusion that may indicate a deeper problem, such as difficulty doing familiar tasks, like checking your email in the morning or cooking a meal you’ve made for years. You may also find yourself struggling to follow or understand written instructions or recipes.

Changes in behavior
We all have had days where we’ve felt off of our game. Maybe you felt irritable or sad for most of the day, or did not want to talk to and be around others for a while. It happens! But memory-related behavioral issues tend to be more extreme than that. According to the Mayo Clinic, sudden mood changes for no clear reason could be an early symptom of dementia. Problems managing money (e.g. spending too much money, not paying bills) or neglecting personal hygiene could be warning signs of a memory impairment-related issue.

Getting lost in places you used to know well
Have you ever walked into a room and can’t remember why you went in there? Or have gotten so lost in your thoughts while driving somewhere that you have to refocus to get back on the right path? The better question is who hasn’t. These experiences aren’t always a cause for concern, but with a memory-related impairment, they can get more serious over time. Driving or walking for a long time without realizing you’re lost or completely forgetting where you are, and not asking for help is a very common symptom of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. You may also forget how you got to a new location, or have difficulty following your GPS or local traffic signs to get back home.

Concerns about memory loss are normal and totally understandable. It’s important to know when memory loss is interfering with your quality of life. Consult your doctor, or a healthcare professional if you or a loved one experiences memory-related issues that affect daily life. You can also visit My Place CT’s webpage on Memory Loss for more information on identifying and treating memory-related problems.

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