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Why Did I Come Into This Room?

Randi Mazzella is a mother of three and freelance writer.  She has written extensively about parenting, family life and teen issues. 

How to tell the difference between normal aging & serious memory loss

It happens more and more lately. I walk the 15 steps from the kitchen island to my pantry and then stare at the shelves thinking, “Now, what did I need in here?” Somehow, I have completely forgotten why I came into the room in less than 45 seconds. Luckily, if I stand there long enough, it comes back to me.

It’s not that I am worried about my forgetfulness. It is relatively minor — more a brain fart than a real memory lapse. I do not think it is the sign of something more serious, at least right now. It’s more that I am annoyed at myself and can’t believe what a total sieve my mind can be these days. I wish I could buy earplugs to somehow stop small pieces of information from falling out of my mind. How awesome would it be if that really worked? I'll bet you Mark Cuban would definitely give me a sweet Shark Tank deal for that idea.

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Mild forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, and I hate to admit it, but I am aging.

“Natural cellular and vascular changes in the brain as we age make us all forget things occasionally as we get older. It may take a bit longer to learn new things, remember certain words or find our glasses. These changes are common and are just signs of normal, age-related mild forgetfulness,” Dr. Madhav Thambisetty, clinical investigator and chief of the unit of clinical and translational neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging/National Institute of Health, tells SheKnows.

Of course, it's human nature to get a little concerned when you are having memory issues. According to Thambisetty, you should see your doctor if memory problems become more frequent and start to make it harder to do everyday things. For example, if it becomes tougher to drive, shop, make change or carry on a chat with a friend, those would all be red flags.

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"Other signs of a more serious memory problem include repeating the same questions multiple times, getting lost in places you were previously familiar with or having trouble following directions,” he adds.

I remember years ago hearing a doctor say on a talk show, “Forgetting where you put your car keys is fine. Forgetting what the keys are for is troublesome.” I remind myself of this when I can’t remember a name someone just told me or where I put my purse that I just had an hour ago. I’ve also been told that part of the problem is all the multitasking we tend do. I am doing so many things at the same time, maybe I am not really concentrating on anything I am doing. If I just slowed down and attentively listened, I would probably remember things better.

Sometimes my 13-year-old son will ask me to study with him, and many of the concepts, especially social studies, math and science, seem completely foreign to me. I know I passed the seventh grade, but I still find myself wondering whether the curriculum radically changed and whether I ever really learned these concepts. Thank goodness for Google, which allows me to fake my knowledge base with a few keystrokes or I think my son would really question how I managed to earn a high school diploma.

Here’s the other fascinating part of how the mind works: I can’t remember how to do calculus, and yet, turn my SiriusXM dial to '80s on 8, and I can sing the lyrics to basically any song that comes on. I may not have heard it in 20 years, and I still remember every word. I remember movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read and the plot of TV shows I haven’t seen in a decade. Maybe it’s all this meaningless information that is crowding my brain making it impossible for more recent information to find a place to hang out and chill.

I am grateful of the many stories from my past that I can remember vividly, especially the ones from my childhood. I savor the memories of family dinners, squabbles with my brothers and everyday life being a kid. I can recall the details of many of these seemingly unimportant moments that occurred so many years ago as if they happened just yesterday. But ask me what did happen yesterday, and I may have to really rack my brain to tell you.

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For now, I choose to laugh at the little things I forget and to give myself an internal high-five when I actually do remember that I walked into the pantry for the baking soda. Or come to think of it, was it baking powder? Hmmm … let me stand here and minute and think.

How to improve your memory & work through memory loss

Thambisetty offers these tips to improve memory as you age:

  • Expose your brain to new interests, skills or situations.
  • Volunteer in your community, at school or at your place of worship.
  • Socialize with friends and family.
  • Take lessons or classes to learn new skills.
  • Use memory tools like to-do lists, calendars and reminder notes.
  • Put your wallet, keys and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
  • Don’t overindulge in alcohol, junk food or sugar.
  • Keep tabs on your emotional and mental health; if you feel depressed for over a week at a time, see a doctor.
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