Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, but can be frustrating and maybe even worrisome if it seems to be getting worse or interferes with your daily activities. In addition to aging, lots of factors can affect our memory – stress, not enough sleep and depression are known to cause forgetfulness.

If you have noticed changes in your memory, you may be asking yourself these questions:

  1. How do we know what’s normal and what’s cause for concern?
  2. What can I do about memory changes?

Normal forgetfulness

The best way to know if you should be concerned about the changes you’re noticing is to talk with your doctor, who can help you distinguish between normal memory changes and ones that might suggest a problem.

Harvard Medical School’s Health Publications describe 7 kinds of normal memory problems that tend to increase as we get older. The article might help you evaluate the kinds of memory changes you are experiencing before talking with your doctor.

Blocking – when you call your grandchild by your child’s name, is one we are all familiar with. So is transience, which is forgetting facts or events over time. Many people tend to misattribute – they will remember partial information or forget where they heard or read something. All of these, say the experts at Harvard, are memory changes that increase as we age and are not cause for alarm.

What can you do to keep your memory sharp?

The more we focus on memory changes, the more we tend to notice them, and that can make things seem worse than they are. It is probably easier said than done, but the key to dealing with forgetfulness is to try not to worry about it once you have established that what you are experiencing is a normal part of getting older. But that doesn’t mean you have to just let it happen.

Experts agree that keeping your brain active is a great way to improve your memory. Learning new skills, reading newspapers, playing games that involve strategy and doing crossword puzzles are great ways to sharpen your memory.

Mindfulness is another way to improve memory. North Americans are embracing the age-old Eastern practice of stopping and non-judgmentally noticing what we are doing, feeling or thinking in the moment. It sounds simple enough, but in our culture where multitasking and rushing are a way of life, it’s something we don’t do most of the time. Mindfulness improves memory because we are more likely to remember things if we are aware as we do them. It is hard to remember things that we do when we are distracted.

If you routinely misplace your glasses for example, you know what that’s like. You probably weren’t thinking about it when you took them off, which is why you can’t remember where you left them. The idea is not to dwell on every little thing you do, but to move through the day with more awareness, especially of things you want to remember.

Give it a try and see if it helps! And stay tuned for a longer post on the benefits of mindfulness for other aspects of aging, coming soon!

Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School