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Forget Something? Everyday Causes of Memory Slips

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Whether you're young or old, you've probably had a bout or two of forgetfulness. But some people seem to have extra trouble remembering things, or find that their forgetfulness gets worse as they get older.

Of course, this probably makes you worry that you have Alzheimer's disease or dementia. But instead, your episodes of forgetfulness may have a basis in your lifestyle habits, and recognizing these causes may help you curb memory slips.

Nutrition and Memory

A poor diet results in general sluggishness, which hinders your ability to think and remember clearly. When your body doesn’t get an adequate supply of nutrients and energy, it negatively impacts your brain function. Deficiencies in certain vitamins also have been shown to decrease memory skills. For example, vitamin B12 plays a key role in healthy brain and nerve function. A vitamin B12 deficiency anemia can cause neurological problems such as confusion, poor concentration and forgetfulness. Insufficient levels of folic acid, another B vitamin, also appear to negatively impact concentration and memory.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Memory

Although some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption — particularly drinking red wine — is beneficial to health, long-term heavy or binge drinking may cause brain damage and memory deficits. Heavy alcohol consumption over time has been known to shrink brain mass and disrupt neurotransmitter activity, which may hamper various cognitive functions including memory.

Some prescription drugs can cause forgetfulness as a side effect, especially sleep medications. (Tell your doctor if you think this might be the case; there may be an alternative medication you can try.) It’s also believed that chronic marijuana use produces cognitive impairment and memory deficits, but whether the impact is permanent is still being debated.

Stress, Sleep Deprivation, and Memory

Experiencing a period of stress or anxiety has a significant impact on your mental state and can make you more forgetful. Sleep deprivation, which often goes hand-in-hand with periods of elevated stress, is a common cause of forgetfulness because it affects the brain’s ability to store and recall memories.

Expecting or new mothers concerned about “pregnancy brain” or the “momnesia” effect shouldn’t worry; the forgetfulness that often accompanies pregnancy probably isn’t serious, and studies have shown that the capacity of the brain is unaltered when you're pregnant. The more likely culprits are the stress and sleep deprivation that most new and expecting mothers experience.

Forgetfulness, or Something More Serious?

Generally, brief, incidental lapses in memory – such as forgetting where you put the keys – are usually not signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, if there is a noticeable consistency in your memory lapses, or if it’s something routine that you no longer remember how to do – for example, if you forget what the keys are for or how to use them – it would be wise to consult a physician for further evaluation.

3 Simple Memory Tips

If you're dealing with general forgetfulness, here are a few suggestions that might help you remember things easier:

  • Write things down.If you forget appointments or important tasks, leave a note in an obvious place. Or keep a planner and make it a habit to refer to it every day, even if you don’t have any tasks to complete.
  • Remember names by association.When you’re introduced to someone new, it may help to think of something or someone to associate him or her with. Taking that extra mental step will leave a more lasting impression in your mind and help boost recall later on.
  • Relieve stress through exercise.Sometimes physical activity can help clear general “brain fog.” Exercise elevates levels of brain chemicals that encourage the growth of nerve cells, which may help boost your memory.

Mind your health,

- Dr. Black

For more information on Dr. Keith Black, visit the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurosurgery at www.cedars-sinai.edu/neurosurgery.

Last Updated:7/21/2010
Important:The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not Everyday Health.
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Date: 12.12.2018, 11:37 / Views: 35335