Did you forget stuff? Why does it happen so often now
I wanted to write this post last week, but I forgot. This is not a joke. I remembered, then I forgot, twice, to write and publish this article. Did something like this happen to you last year? When this happens, how concerned should we be?
First of all, my oversight to write this piece is Most likely tied to the fact that it was tax season and I had another deadline on my plate last week, taking up a significant amount of my mental office space. We’re all human, and the occasional distancing isn’t something to be afraid of. Thank goodness I remember the memory and cognition class I had in undergrad. The amount of information coming from our various devices and the multitasking that comes with it negatively impacts our attention span as well as optimal ability coding of memories. Poorly prepared and stored data is extremely difficult to access later.
And then there’s the larger context: the past two years have been exceptionally stressful due to a global pandemic you may have heard of. For many of us, our personal, professional and social lives have been turned upside down and have become almost unrecognizable. As I’ve written (see “Desperately Seeking Normal”), the search for “normal” is all-pervasive, endless, and often difficult, if not impossible, for some (the immunocompromised, for example). It was a difficult time, with an increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression.
Add a war in Europe, and we have a lot on our minds right now. So consider all of this before jumping to conclusions about forgetting where you put your car keys and looking all over your house for your glasses only to find they were on your head or dangling from your neck all the time blessed. And as we get older, most of us, if not all of us, will experience that infuriating “tip of the tongue” phenomenon where the right word for something eludes us, sometimes when speaking to an audience. It’s annoying and embarrassing, and preferably rare.
Causes for concern
When does forgetfulness signal a potentially serious problem? Kirk Daffner of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says a critical consideration is whether the cognitive changes significantly interfere with your daily activities. If you completely forget important appointments, meetings, or appointments (yes, people still go there) and these slip-ups or brain farts are impacting your professional and/or social life, you should see a doctor.
How to Minimize Memory Loss
Memory lapses can have treatable causes. Major stress, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, lack of sleep, and certain prescription medications can all play a role in failures. On the other hand, research shows that people who exercise daily exercise their brains through crossword puzzles and online games, eating a healthy diet and communicating regularly with friends and family can minimize memory loss. Studies have also shown that supplements like magnesium L-threonate and Pycnogenol (i.e. French maritime pine bark, yes, you read that right) help cognitive functioning in people of different ages.
In short, there are contexts and biological factors to consider when we recognize cases of forgetfulness. But I also remember a quote from Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation of the time: “I don’t remember having had any memory loss.” Some people may not remember (or consider significant) repeated incidents of memory impairment, such as not remembering their struggle to remember a family member’s name or getting lost in the neighborhood where they resident. This may require your help in making and keeping a medical appointment with their doctor so that the cognitive and neurological situation can be properly assessed. Barring such scenarios, there’s probably nothing to worry about, at least on the memory front.