If you run a business, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos of the day. This can lead to a cycle of distraction that can be interpreted by you and others as forgetfulness. As we’ve noted before (and provided some tips to help you with deal with it), you may even start to forget a longtime customer’s name. Soon, you may be asking yourself, “Am I losing my memory?”
There’s a big difference in forgetfulness and serious memory loss
Chances are, your issues related to forgetfulness are not serious clinical conditions, just a natural part of aging. And fortunately, there are many ways to help you sharpen your memory, many of which will help you stay healthy in other ways, also. (At the bottom of the page, we’ve included a list of symptoms of serious memory loss from the National Institute on Aging.)
Seven signs of (normal) forgetfulness from Harvard Med School
Forgetfulness comes in many flavors, the experts tell us. Do you recognize any of these from your own experience? Don’t worry. Everyone will likely experience some of them along life’s journey. (For a more detailed explanation of the following, visit Forgetfulness — 7 types of normal memory problems on the Harvard Medical School publications website.)
1. Transience (The tendency to forget facts or events over time.)
Although transience might seem like a sign of memory weakness, brain scientists regard it as beneficial because it clears the brain of unused memories, making way for newer, more useful ones.
2. Absentmindedness (Forgetting things when you don’t pay close enough attention.)
You forget where you just put your pen because you didn’t focus on where you put it in the first place. You were thinking of something else (or, perhaps, nothing in particular), so your brain didn’t encode the information securely. Absentmindedness also involves forgetting to do something at a prescribed time, like taking your medicine or keeping an appointment.
3. Blocking (The temporary inability to retrieve a memory.)
Someone asks you a question and the answer is right on the tip of your tongue — you know that you know it, but you just can’t think of it. In many cases, the barrier is a memory similar to the one you’re looking for, and you retrieve the wrong one. Scientists think that memory blocks become more common with age and that they account for the trouble older people have remembering other people’s names. Research shows that people are able to retrieve about half of the blocked memories within just a minute.
4. Misattribution (Remembering something accurately in part, but misattributing some detail.)
You remember the event, but you misattribute things like the time, place, or person involved. Another kind of misattribution occurs when you believe a thought you had was totally original when, in fact, it came from something you had previously read or heard but had forgotten about. This sort of misattribution explains cases of unintentional plagiarism. Old memories are especially prone to misattribution.
5. Suggestibility (The vulnerability of your memory to the power of suggestion.)
Information that you learn about an occurrence after the fact becomes incorporated into your memory of the incident, even though you did not experience these details. The suggestion fools your mind into thinking it’s a real memory.
6. Bias (Your perceptions are filtered by your personal biases — experiences, beliefs, prior knowledge, and even your mood at the moment.)
Your biases affect your perceptions and experiences when they’re being encoded in your brain. And when you retrieve a memory, your mood and other biases at that moment can influence what information you actually recall.
7. Persistence (When people are tormented by memories they wish they could forget.)
This is the opposite of forgetting things. People can be tormented by memories they wish they could forget, but can’t. The persistence of memories of traumatic events, negative feelings, and ongoing fears is another form of memory problem. People suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have such memory problems.
Seven tips from the Mayo Clinic for decreasing forgetfulness
Do any of the above 7 sound like your form of forgetfulness? According to the Mayo Clinic, everyone forgets things occasionally. Still, memory loss is nothing to take lightly. Although there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss, memory tricks can be helpful. Consider these seven simple ways provided by the Mayo Clinic to sharpen your memory.
1. Stay mentally active
Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape — and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles. Read a section of the newspaper that you normally skip. Learn to play a musical instrument.
2. Socialize regularly
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others — especially if you live alone.
3. Get organized
You’re more likely to forget things if your office is cluttered and your notes are in disarray. Jot down tasks, appointments and other events in a special notebook, calendar or electronic planner. Keep your to-do lists current and check off items you’ve completed. Set aside a certain place for your wallet, keys and other essentials. Limit distractions and don’t try to do too many things at once.
4. Sleep well
Sleep plays an important role in helping you consolidate your memories, so you can recall them down the road. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day.
5. Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. What you drink counts, too. Not enough water or too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.
6. Include physical activity in your daily routine
Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. This might help keep your memory sharp. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (think brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as jogging) — preferably spread throughout the week. If you don’t have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.
7. Manage chronic conditions
Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations for any chronic conditions, such as depression or kidney or thyroid problems. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory is likely to be. In addition, review your medications with your doctor regularly. Various medications can impact memory.
Signs of a serious memory problem
There is a big difference in typical forms of forgetfulness, like those listed above, and serious memory loss. According to the U.S. National Institute on Aging (part of the NIH, National Institue on Health), serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things.
Signs of serious memory problems may include:
- Asking the same questions over and over again
- Getting lost in places you know well
- Not being able to follow directions
- Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
- Not taking care of yourself—eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe
What to do about a serious memory problem
See your doctor if you are having any of the problems listed above. It’s important to find out what might be causing a serious memory problem. Once you know the cause, you can get the right treatment.