Research has found that even young people .. Even those in their 20’s, sometimes may not remember why they walked into the kitchen, or wherever… it’s a function of how busy our brains are.
Many of us worry as we get older that any time we forget where we put something or what we were going to do in the kitchen or wherever we headed and then couldn’t remember why we went there, that it must mean we’re heading toward dementia. That’s not the case according to research.
Dr. Laura McWhirter from the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, a the University of Edinburgh, explained that “People think if you are starting to forget things — something like misplacing your car keys — that it’s something to worry about. But it’s normal… it’s just a function of how the brain works and how attention works”.
The fact is that our brains’ memory banks get full as we get older, so it’s harder for it to find a stored memory… these types of memory malfunctions are often involved in those times when something is ‘on the tip of my tongue” but we just can’t say it. Experts say you can’t say the word because your memory retrieval button got jammed… it’s technically a process called “blocking”.
The scientific explanation for those momentary memory blanks is that we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing when we put the phone down, or perhaps even on why we were heading to the kitchen if we were also talking or thinking about something else….if we don’t create awareness or memory of the action we just did (get someone’s phone number) or what we planned to do in the kitchen instead of finishing our conversation with someone else at the same time… our brain simply doesn’t create a memory. The experts point out if we paid attention to everything around us our brain would be overwhelmed so it tries to help by filtering out anything that seems irrelevant to the brain… which I guess would mean to our laypeople that if we aren't focusing or trying to remember something our brain may very well decide it’s not important so it doesn't make a memory of it.
And why don’t we remember events from long ago very well any more? It’s due to “transience”, or as it’s sometimes called “use it or lose it”… in this kind of memory loss it’s the brain clearing out older memories to make room for newer ones… so older memories fade over time. So experts advise deliberately recalling an important or special event you don’t ever want to forget by recalling it at regular intervals so it won’t be lost over time.
Here’s another piece of information that may be comforting to know… as we age connections between neurons weaken, and that causes a lot of the barrage of info we get every day to erase other items in our short-term memory. That’s why we might forget the name of someone we were just introduced to seconds before we can’t remember their name. If you want to remember new information like that, the experts say to repeat it to yourself over and over again.
And even younger people can take heart in all this information because studies have found even people in their 20’s can experience these same types of memory issues. One study found that a fourth of 124 healthy people with an average age of 23 rated their memories as being “fair” or “poor”… since all the issues detailed here to explain why memory difficulties become noticeable as we age, also explain why younger people have some of the same problems… given the amount of “information overload” we all seem to live with these days, that shouldn’t surprise us, or worry us.
Years ago we read that if you can’t remember where your keys are, that doesn’t mean you are on your way to dementia.. But if you see your car keys and don’t know what they’re for, it may indicate you should get your memory tested and see what’s causing that.. If it is a real problem, it’s much better to discover it and deal with it sooner rather than later. And obviously if a person is starting to have a lot more memory problems, it’s best to check that out earlier rather than later as well. But isn’t it nice to know that all the common memory lapses discussed here are no reason to panic?