Forgetfulness, Brain Fog and Ageing: What’s Normal?
Being forgetful is something we can all experience, but it is important to know when it is normal or when you need to pay more attention to it.
We all forget things sometimes, especially when life gets busy or we are under stress. You may start to notice this happening more often as you get older, and menopause doesn’t help either.
Mild memory loss can be a normal part of ageing. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have dementia. Only 1% of people over age 65 with normal age-related memory issues will get dementia each year but it is estimated that by 2025 there will be 1 million with the condition in the UK.
So what can be helpful is to keep a look out for the warning signs but make sure that normal forgetfulness may be moving into something more serious.
When it’s an issue
If memory loss makes it hard for you to handle your daily tasks, that’s a sign you shouldn’t ignore.
Are you forgetting things you only just heard? Asking the same question over and over again? Relying on lots of paper or electronic reminders just to get through the day?
Talk to your doctor if you or your family notices that happening to you.
Harder to plan or problem solve?
Everybody makes a mistake sometimes. Maybe you paid the wrong amount on a bill, or forgot to sign a cheque- that’s normal stuff we all do.
But if you are really struggling to do things like follow directions in a familiar recipe or keep track of bills the way you used to do, it could be a warning sign of memory problems.
Do you struggle with daily tasks?
Having trouble using that TV remote or forget how to set the oven timer? If you need a little help now and then with those kinds of things, it’s likely nothing to worry about.
But if you have problems doing regular activities you’re used to doing, like driving to places you always go, playing favourite games, or finding your way at the supermarket, it may be a sign of a more serious memory issue.
Where’s my car?
We’ve all had it happen. You come out of the shop and think, “Now, where’d I leave my car?”
It’s normal to forget where you parked now and again, and personally in a multi storey car park I make a note of the floor and nearest exit!
If it happens regularly, though, check with your doctor. It could be a warning sign of dementia.
Who moved my keys?
Again this is a common occurrence, particularly if when you have come home you have been a bit stressed and so you don’t follow your regular routine of putting the keys in the same place and then can’t remember where they are.
Most of the time when you forget where you’ve left something, like your keys or your glasses, you should be able to think back, retrace your steps, and find whatever it is.
If you notice you’re losing things all the time and you can’t go back and spot them, that’s a common sign of a bigger memory problem.
Losing track of time
Most of us have woken up and thought to ourselves, “What day is it?” and usually it won’t take you too long to figure it out.
But if you are often losing track of dates, seasons, or the passage of time, that’s another sign of real memory trouble.
How did I get here?
If you walk into a room and can’t remember what you were doing, that’s not cause for concern as it happens to all of us occasionally.
But people with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes forget where they are. Or they find themselves somewhere and don’t remember how they got there. If that’s a problem you have, it’s a good idea to get help.
What’s the word?
It’s normal to have trouble finding the right word sometimes. Or you might use a word the wrong way. Not to worry.
But people with Alzheimer’s disease often start to have real trouble talking or writing. They might find it hard to recall the right term for familiar objects or the name of somebody they know well. If you’re struggling with names, words, or what to say next, it may be a sign of more serious memory loss.
Withdrawing from social contact
Are you avoiding friends, family, or co-workers? Is it hard to carry on or follow a conversation?
When memory problems become more severe, it’s common for people to lose interest in hobbies, social events, or other activities they used to like doing. If that sounds like you, it’s time to talk to someone about it.
Post covid brain fog
While recovering from coronavirus (COVID-19), some people experience brain fog symptoms for a short time while others may experience brain fog for several months or longer.
Most recover completely over the course of 6-9 months, but always speak to your GP if you’re worried about your symptoms.
Take a memory test
If you aren’t sure if what you’re going through is just regular ageing, a doctor can help you figure it out. They’ll know if the memory loss you have falls within the normal range or not.
Most surgeries are able to offer this either ant the surgery or from a specialist agency in your own home. They will ask you questions and check with a series of tests and also look for other problems that can look like dementia, such as side effects from some medications or depression.
How to help yourself
If your memory is OK but you’re still worried, there are a few things you can do about it. Simple things like regular physical exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking or drinking to excess.
Keeping good social contacts with friends, family and support groups are important, as is exercising your mind as those who spend time reading, solving puzzles, or otherwise staying engaged are less likely to get Alzheimer’s.
It’s possible that these activities can help you to keep your mind sharp. It’s also a good idea to lower your stress, eat right, and exercise.
Personally, I find that my daily routine has helped enormously by having reminders, and those can either be in the form of your diary, or a list, or in my case I rely on technology and use an Alexa or Siri from my phone.
I use these to remind me of times and appointment so when I need to go out they act as an alert, and I even use them so I remember when to take something out of the oven if I am engrossed in a TV programme!
There are many similar devices available and they can certainly be a boon if you are easily distracted or forgetful. Usually you can program them in advance for future appointments like your doctor or dentist.
I hope this has helped you spot some of the warning signs for when it’s time to take memory loss more seriously.
It is certainly true that one of the major factors that can impact your ability to remember is when you are under any degree of stress, and that can come from your environment, your relationships, or simply events in the world that are going on around you that you have no control over.
Many women do find that they experience some level of forgetfulness at menopause as hormonal levels change, commonly known as brain fog or brain freeze, but there are things you can do to combat it.
Keeping your brain engaged and occupied by doing crosswords, jigsaws, learning a new language or taking up a new hobby will all be helpful. But the major thing that you can do is to get your stress levels under control and make sure that your hormones are in balance.
If your stress levels are concerning you then this article can be helpful: