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The Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Life - July 2011

I'm sorry, have you seen my car keys?
"Senior moments" can be amusing, annoying or disconcerting

Ever lost track of your car keys, your phone or the book you were reading? Maybe you've found yourself struggling to remember the name or phone number of your friend, even though you've known her for years? Perhaps you've stopped in the main aisle of a store because you had no idea what you had come in to buy? While there certainly could be a better name for these phenomena, they are known in pop culture as "senior moments." People of any age have minor memory lapses, so these moments don't just happen to older people. However, after we reach a certain point in our lives, we can't help but wonder if this occasional forgetfulness could be a symptom of aging.

But ... now what was I saying? Oh yes - when should you start to worry that your senior moments are a sign of something more serious, like Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia? Most forgetfulness is more likely a symptom of the busy lives we live, rather than the result of disease.

Many forgetful episodes could be caused by information overload. We just have too much on our minds, too many sources of information competing for our limited attention. After all, the older we get, the more information we have to process and recall. It can be hard to focus when you are grocery shopping, talking on your phone and sifting through your coupons all at the same time. Add in trying to walk and push a bulky grocery cart in a straight line and it's a wonder we can still talk, much less successfully remember our debit card PIN at the checkout line. Also contributing to forgetfulness are fatigue and stress. Being overworked and sleep-deprived reduce your ability to concentrate and pay attention to details, which can lead to forgetfulness.

Experts say we can all improve our memories by reducing distractions, getting organized and, whenever possible, doing just one thing at a time. Pocket calendars and to-do lists and, for the more tech savvy, smart phone personal organizer apps, can help reduce mental clutter and keep you on track. Also, using multiple senses can help with memory. If you can notice how things look, smell, taste and feel, as well as what's happening, you can remember something in multiple ways. Replaying memories in your mind reinforces them. Finally, try to get enough sleep and learn how to manage your stress levels.

Unfortunately, it's hard to know if occasional forgetfulness will never progress beyond what's normal, or whether these "senior moments" are the beginning of something worse. According to the Alzheimer's Association, normal age-related memory loss usually doesn't affect our daily functioning or the ability to live independently. While you may forget something, you will eventually remember it. You can follow directions and sometimes use notes and other memory aids. You can still manage your own personal care.

When forgetfulness makes it hard to manage daily affairs, when it goes beyond minor annoyances and occasional slips, it may be an early warning sign of a medical condition such as Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. If you can't find the sunglasses on your head or the phone in your pocket, you probably have nothing to worry about. But if you regularly miss appointments or forget about food on the stove, you should probably see a doctor to have these potential symptoms evaluated. There are a number of medical and non-medical causes for forgetfulness, and if yours has gotten to the point that it concerns you, it never hurts to get a professional opinion.

And ... well, I was going to say something else. What was it? Oh, never mind. It will come to me later.

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