Help, I keep forgetting things and I'm not that old!


  • Mind
  • Monday, 15 Jul 2019

Individuals who are not actively interacting with friends and family risk becoming forgetful. Photo: 123rf.com

In the process of ageing, part of the changes that we undergo occur in the brain and includes memory loss.

Being forgetful about things could be a sign of more serious issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

But that doesn’t mean you have reason to fear the worst just yet, or at all.

I prefer to use the term forgetfulness to describe memory “loss” that is due entirely to something else.

More often, cognitive issues are caused by temporary disruptions like stress, vitamin deficiency, hormonal imbalance and depression. Even when the memory problems appear to be chronic, it may still be treatable and even reversible.

Get help from your doctor to determine the source of your forgetfulness and take the right course of action to correct it.

Let’s look at some of the probable causes of forgetfulness:

* Vitamin deficiency: you need a portfolio of nutrients and vitamins for your entire body to function well. Vitamin B12 is one essential vitamin that you need as it is required in fortifying nerve ends, helping to build genetic material and promoting brain health, including memory retention. Because the absorption of nutrients becomes slower as you age, you might not be getting enough B12 from food alone. Prevent memory loss due to a lack of vitamin B12 by supplementing early, not only when you need it.

* Excessive alcohol: overindulging in alcoholic drinks kills brain cells over time, leading to poor memory performance. You are also putting yourself at risk of developing dementia when you have more than two drinks a day.

* Too many medications: a side effect of prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can bring about cognitive loss. Medicines with this side-effect include those that treat issues related to blood pressure, antihistamines, insomnia, depression, incontinence, gastrointestinal pain, muscle pain, anxiety and arthritis. Additionally, they can upset the balance in hormone levels, which also contributes to memory problems.

* Dehydration: this doesn’t seem like an obvious cause of poor memory, but in older people, dehydration creates trouble. Confusion, inability to focus and drowsiness are similar symptoms experienced by those suffering from dementia. If you are experiencing those symptoms, check for dehydration as you might be unaware of what’s happening.

* Thyroid problems: imbalance in your thyroid gland causes hyperthyroidism. Anxiety, weight gain and brain fog are some of the symptoms of thyroid problems.

* Depression: In our retirement years, we have a tendency to be less active and sociable. Not having a career anymore may be a challenge for retirees at first, and losing that sense of purpose may put someone in a state of depression. Symptoms include a lack of focus, feeling tired all the time and memory impairment.

Caring for a pet stimulates the mind and gives you a sense of purpose. Photo: AFP

What should you do about it?

Clearly, the next step to combat forgetfulness is to correct the issues above by taking supplements, drinking more water and auditing your medicine and alcohol intake.

Apart from that, making lifestyle changes that benefit the overall vitality of your body and spirit directly improves mind health as well. The earlier you start, the better your chances of preventing forgetfulness in old age:

Sleep well: getting your nightly rest is the easiest way to improve memory without much effort. All you have to do is go to bed at an hour (by 11pm) that supports your circadian rhythm and allows the repair and regeneration work that occurs while you sleep, to go on without interruption.

Kick smoking: cigarettes restrict oxygen intake to the brain and raise the occurrence of brain fog. When you quit, you’ll benefit from improved oxygen intake.

Eat well: add antioxidant-rich foods to your daily diet. Fresh fruit, green tea, green leafy vegetables and omega-3 fats from fish and nuts are quite literally, food for the brain. Avoid processed foods that are high in calories but lack nutrients.

Take up a sport: workouts that involve strength training and high intensity cardio have exploded in popularity due to the benefits they bring. This includes strengthening muscles, slowing ageing, preventing joint pressure and so much more. But if going to the gym regularly seems inconvenient or intimidating, pick an activity you’ll enjoy. Whether it’s dancing, swimming, badminton, tennis or boxing, you are stimulating your brain by learning new moves and the right techniques.

Keep in touch with people: as the saying goes, no man is an island. Individuals who are not actively interacting with friends and family risk becoming forgetful. To some extent, conversation requires skill and just like playing the piano, you need to practice or you get rusty. Join a book club or a gardening club to meet new people and learn new things. Or just talk to family members about their lives – you’ll be surprised at what you learn about your own relatives.

Avoid getting stressed out: high levels of anxiety or stress causes memory lapses. The release of the stress hormone cortisol, puts pressure on the brain and can weaken memory skills in time. Prioritising the things that are actually worth stressing about is one stress management tip to help you breathe easier and relax.

Ideas for brain-stimulating activities:

Doing puzzles such as Sudoku forces the brain to work and keeps it active. - Filepic

One trick to fighting forgetfulness is to do brain workouts with activities that require its use. Just like when picking a sport, choose activities that you’ll enjoy or ones that you’ve never tried – it may ignite an interest you weren’t aware of before.

From chess, checkers, word and number puzzles to interesting new books, learning a new craft or skill will enable your brain to light up like a pinball machine, and you’ll be much happier, when the effort to prevent memory issues pays off.

Here are some additional ideas for mentally stimulating activities:

  • Pick up a new instrument (if Tun Dr Siti Hasmah started playing the violin again after a 70-year lapse, you can learn to play an instrument, too!)

  • Learn to cook new recipes every month.

  • Learn a new sport, or if you already play one, fine tune your skills and become an expert.

  • Don’t always rely on Google Maps or Waze when you drive. Read maps and navigate from memory. Studies have shown that the hippocampus of experienced, old-school London taxi drivers are bigger than those who did not know their routes from memory.

  • Create a project that requires creativity and project management, such as landscaping the garden, redecorating a room or refurbishing a vintage car.

  • Learn a craft like woodworking, flower arrangement, pottery, quilting and more.

  • Join a community that you can relate to. Share information and volunteer to organise events.

  • Volunteer your time for a cause you’re interested in.

  • Plan social gatherings for friends and family once or twice a month.

  • Journal or keep a diary of your daily musings and life experiences.

  • Adopt a pet. Caring for their meals, walking them, playing with them and ensuring their overall wellness provides structure and responsibility that’s similar to caring for children – but do be committed to these duties once you adopt a pet.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.


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