How forgetful are you?

How forgetful are you?

If the title of this article caught your attention, it’s likely that you have said this, thought this or know someone who has said it.

More and more, people are wondering if they are getting Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or some other form of cognitive deficit, but there are many other potential explanations for these experiences.

A cognitive deficit is difficulty with perception, memory or abstract thinking that interferes with one’s ability to learn. It may also involve impaired judgment, inattentiveness, impulsiveness or impairment of speech or language. Cognitive deficits can be caused by changes in the brain as we grow older. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are examples of this.

Other causes include: head trauma, depression, circulatory disorders (for example, heart disease and stroke), which limit oxygen flow to the brain; medication side effects; hormonal changes; metabolic disorders; neurological disorders; infections; exposure to toxic substances; and brain tumors.

On the other hand, many people who complain to me about what seems to be a cognitive deficit are actually just having difficulty managing how quickly our world is changing and are experiencing “information overload.”

So, what do you do if you are experiencing some cognitive difficulties?

Start by having a thorough medical evaluation to clarify a diagnosis and identify the causes of the symptoms. In general, treatment may involve improving nutrition; getting moderate exercise; developing healthy sleep habits; counseling/psychotherapy; reducing use of alcohol and other drugs; changing medications (increasing or decreasing, depending on the effect); or other, more intense, medical interventions.

However, if there is no clear medical diagnosis, you may need to learn new and/or better ways to manage our constantly, rapidly changing world and flow of information.

Our short-term (or working) memories are designed to manage an average of seven (yes, just seven) pieces of information at a time. As I talk to people, it seems that most of us are trying to manage much more information, and our brains are just not designed for that.

If that is the case, you may need to identify ways to slow down; use more memory aids, like written schedules or to-do lists; use various alarms to aid in managing your time; reduce your overall commitments; improve your overall stress management; and not just use your brain, but continue to challenge yourself to be a lifelong learner

To find out more information on memory disorders, cognitive changes and the advantages of early evaluation, visit the Advocate Memory Center.

Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Advocate Medical Group – Behavioral Health in Normal, Ill. She has helped her clients through a variety of issues for more than 20 years. Click here to make an appointment. 

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  1. What about taking Vitamins for memory loss, would that be a possible way to help?

  2. I forget things often.

  3. Christine Cowen, RPSGT, CCSH January 31, 2018 at 8:47 am · Reply

    Sleep is also important for our brain.

    During deep sleep (N3 sleep) our brain cells shrink a bit and cerebral spinal fluid flushes away toxins that build up. One of these toxins is Amyloid plaques. The build-up of this toxin can lead to Alzheimer’s.

    During REM sleep (dream Sleep) the neurotransmitters rebuild in the brain. Lack of REM can interfere with this. This can leave you with short term memory loss, difficulty learning new things, change in mood. and difficulty focusing on the task at hand. A simple thing like using a snooze button on your alarm clock can interfere with the quality of your early morning REM sleep.

  4. Thank you for this article. I used your article as a class reference, from my university course. I had seen a documentary on how stress kills brain cells. Since then, I try to reduce my stress, with techniques and strategies. I heard a psychologist’s presentation; she said that exercise and eating healthy creates more and new brain cells.

About the Author

Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn
Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn

Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Advocate Medical Group – Behavioral Health in Normal, Ill. She has helped her clients through a variety of issues for more than 20 years.