Been Forgetting Stuff? Why It's Happening So Frequently Now
Here's why memory lapses are so common and when they should be taken seriously.
Posted April 22, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- Memory lapses are connected to both contextual and biological factors.
- Stress, depression, lack of sleep, and vitamin B12 deficiency are common culprits to forgetting.
- Frequent forgetting could be a serious concern requiring follow-up if the cognitive change significantly interferes with daily activities.
I meant to write this post last week, but I kept forgetting. This is no joke. I remembered and then forgot, twice, to write and publish this piece. Has this sort of thing happened to you in the past year? When this occurs, how concerned should one be?
First, my forgetting to write this piece is probably connected to it being tax season and having had another deadline on my plate last week occupying a sizable portion of my mental desktop space. We’re all human, and occasionally spacing out is not something to get scared about. Thank goodness I remember the memory and cognition course I had as an undergrad. The sheer amount of information coming in through our various devices, and the accompanying multi-tasking, negatively impact our attention spans as well as the optimal encoding of memories. Poorly rehearsed and stored data are extremely hard to access later on.
And then there’s the larger context: The past two years have been exceptionally stressful due to a global pandemic you may have heard something about. For many of us, our personal, professional, and social lives have been upended and have become almost unrecognizable. As I have written about (see "Desperately Seeking Normal"), the search for “normal” is ubiquitous, unending, and often difficult, if not impossible for some (the immunocompromised, for instance). It’s been a tough time, with a ramped-up prevalence of both anxiety and depression.
Throw in a war in Europe, and we’ve got a lot on our minds right now. So, factor all of that in before jumping to any conclusions about forgetting where you put your car keys and searching your entire home for your glasses only to find they were on your head or have been dangling from your neck the whole blessed time. And as we age, most if not all of us will experience that maddening “tip of your tongue” phenomenon where the right word for something eludes us, sometimes when we are speaking to an audience. That’s inconvenient and embarrassing, and preferably rare.
Causes for concern
When does forgetting signal a potentially serious issue? Kirk Daffner at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital states that a crucial consideration is whether cognitive changes significantly interfere with your daily activities. If you are completely forgetting major appointments, meetings, or dates (yes, people still go on those) and these lapses or brain farts are impacting your professional and/or social life, you should consult a doctor.
How to minimize memory loss
Memory lapses may have treatable causes. Major stress, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, too little sleep, and some prescription drugs all can play roles in lapses. On the other hand, research shows that people who exercise daily, exercise their brains through crosswords and online games, have a healthy diet, and regularly connect 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 correctly) help cognitive functioning in folks of various ages.
In sum, there are contextual and biological factors to consider when we recognize instances of forgetfulness. But I also recall a quotation by Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation from back in the day: “I don’t remember having a memory loss.” Some folks may not remember (or deem significant) repeated incidents of impaired memory, such as not recalling their struggle to remember a family member’s name, or getting lost in the neighborhood where they reside. This may require your assistance in making and keeping a medical appointment with their doctor so that the cognitive and neurological situation can be assessed properly. Barring such scenarios, there is probably little to worry about, at least on the memory front.
Daffner, K. (2010). Promoting successful cognitive aging: A comprehensive review. Journal of Alzheimers Disease, 19(4), 1101–1122.