Bittersweet Memory

Some forgetfulness comes with age, but is yours normal?



After age 30, a once-sharp memory can become a thing of the past, says Mark Herceg, PhD, director of Rehabilitation Psychology and Neuropsychology at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. And changes in memory cognition often become more pronounced after age 50. But there’s a big difference, Dr. Herceg points out, between normal lapses and the kind you might need a second opinion about. 

Even if you’ve noticed you’re “more” forgetful than before, that isn’t necessarily a reason to worry, says Dr. Herceg. Occasionally overlooking an appointment or not remembering what day it is when you’re in a different-than-everyday environment (such as on vacation); momentarily blanking on what you were about to say; and having trouble recalling specific words while speaking are slips most people experience as they get older. 

Forgetting the days of the week and struggling to retrieve words, phrases, or family members’ names on a routine basis, however, could be a sign of a problem. “When memory decline starts to disrupt daily life, academics, or work, there may be more advanced issues at play,” says Dr. Herceg, who adds that a medical evaluation can help determine how much of the changes you’re seeing are emotional, physiological, or possibly disease-driven.    

To keep your mind on point, advises Dr. Herceg, “It’s important to engage in routine and have structure day to day.” Physical activity (to help supply nutrient-rich blood flow to the brain), restful sleep, and maintaining hobbies and leisure activities also promote healthy memory function. Vitamin- and mineral-rich plant foods containing antioxidants (like blueberries), whole grains, leafy greens, avocado, B vitamins, folic acid, and low-cholesterol and Mediterranean diets have all been shown to slow cognitive slumps as well. 

Most important, says Dr. Herceg: “Be proactive. People can’t have a passive approach to their memory—one has to pay attention.”

You may want to speak to a neurologist if your answer is “yes” to one or more of the following:  
Are memory lapses impacting your ability to learn something new?
Do you lose the same things on a daily basis (keys, your car when you park to go shopping)?
Has a consistently high degree of stress coincided with your weakened recall?
Have you been lost in your house?

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