You walk into a room, determined to find something. You start rummaging around, opening some drawers, looking on desktops-only to realize you have no idea what you are actually looking for. You leave the room, shaking your head, maybe amused by your absent mindedness or perhaps a little worried. In a couple minutes, hours or even days, the memory floods back in and you remember exactly what it was you were searching for.
Of course, we’ve all been there- but do situations like this and other lapses in memory increase as you get older? Or, is it more likely that a 20-year old just shakes this off as something funny, whereas it might be cause for concern for a 50 year old?
Scientists say memory loss is perfectly normal. As you get older, you’ll notice parts of your body weakening and that isn’t limited to your biceps. Parts of the brain can also become weaker over time as a natural process of aging; however, virtually everyone deals with memory loss and can be proactive in trying to prevent it.
Here are some of the main memory problems that people of all ages deal with, according to the Harvard Review.
Transience– This is when you lose memories over time in order to make way for new ones. This isn’t necessarily bad as it clears your mind of the memories you don’t often use- kind of like throwing away the single sock you’ve had sitting at the back of a drawer for years. So, if you don’t want to forget something, think about it often.
Absentmindedness- this happens when you weren’t paying close enough attention to the task at hand. Much like the example in the opening paragraph, if your mind didn’t concentrate on something, you become more likely to forget. Absentmindedness causes people to lose things, get lost or be a little clumsy.
Blocking- Ahh, you know what it means, is it, umm something about not remembering words and, you just saw it, not transience, but something with the letter t- right! Tongue! It’s when you have something on the tip of your tongue that you temporarily can’t recall but still know. Usually it’s due to a competing memory, which may be similar but not the one you were looking for.
Misattribution- You could have sworn your teacher told you about his trip to London but it was actually your friend’s dad. This is when you have partial recollection of an event but get a detail wrong, such as where you got the information from.
Suggestibility- Remember that time you and your friends went to a party where Peter did a black flip and broke the table? No, well not really, kind of, I guess. Even if you don’t really remember something, it is possible for the power of suggestion to create false memories. Scientists are still studying this phenomenon; here is an interesting article on it.
Bias- As hard as you may try to avoid it, memories are always tainted by past and present biases, moods and attitudes. When a memory is encoded your bias influences your memory of the event.
There are ways of preventing memory loss as you age. Harvard Health Publications offer seven ways to keep your mind sharp that you can start doing at any age. They recommend physical exercise, learning new skills, eating nutritious foods, sleeping well, and surrounding yourself with a good social support system.
These recommendations will not only improve your memory, but also help your overall physical and mental health.
Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisher, Facebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.
Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
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