13 Reasons You're Forgetting Things All the Time
Get to know—and remember—these common causes of memory loss.
Maybe you spend 20 minutes looking for your car keys only to discover that they've been in your pocket the whole time. Or maybe you frequently find yourself in panic while trying to get out the door because you've misplaced your phone yet again. Perhaps it slips your mind that you have dinner in the oven until the smell of burnt food jogs your memory. Whatever it may be, chances are you forget things from time to time—we all do.
However, if your forgetfulness is more of a frustrating impairment than a laughing matter, then you might be experiencing more than just your average mental lapse. It could be a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which affects between 15 percent and 20 percent of people age 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In addition to aging, there are a variety of things that can cause memory problems related to MCI. And since MCI can be an indicator that you are at a greater risk of developing more serious cognitive conditions like Alzheimer's disease and dementia, it's best to know why you are forgetting things. Here are the 13 most common reasons for memory loss. And for more things to look out for when it comes to your cognitive health, check out 40 Early Signs of Alzheimer's Everyone Over 40 Should Know.
You're drinking too much.
"A person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she achieves sobriety," warns the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. One such deficit commonly experienced by both current and former alcoholics is memory impairment; per the Institute, excessive drinking can result in everything from "simple slips in memory to permanent and debilitating conditions that require lifetime custodial care." And for more on how alcohol affects your health, check out 22 Surprising Ways Drinking too Much Affects Your Body.
You're stressed out.
Most people are already acutely aware of the link between stress and weight gain or stress and depression, but what about stress and memory loss? Researchers believe that higher cortisol levels can predict everything from brain size to a person's performance on cognitive tests. In a recent study published in Neurology, scientists analyzed adults' cortisol levels and cognitive skills and found that the more stressed a person was, the more intense their memory loss. And for more reasons to manage feelings of being overwhelmed, check out 18 Subtle Signs Your Stress Levels Are Harming Your Health.
There is a plethora of published research that suggests a correlation between depressive symptoms and forgetfulness. For instance, one study recently published in the journal Neurology analyzed more than 1,000 older adults over a five-year period and found that the more intense a person's depressive symptoms, the worse their episodic memory. Why? As study author Zeki Al Hazzouri, PhD, MS, explained in a statement: "Our research suggests that depression and brain aging may occur simultaneously, and greater symptoms of depression may affect brain health [memory] through small vessel disease." And to manage your mental well-being, check out 26 Things You're Doing That Are Hurting Your Mental Health.
You're not getting enough sleep.
Without an adequate amount of sleep, your body and brain are unable to function at full capacity. And it's not just how much sleep you get that matters, but also whether you're experiencing REM sleep. One study from the University of California, Berkeley found a staggering correlation between the intensity of sleep and memories stored—especially as it relates to the aging process.
When the researchers monitored the sleeping patterns of both younger adults (mostly in their 20s) and older individuals (mostly in their 70s), they found that not only did the older adults experience 75 percent less adequate deep sleep, but they also remembered 55 percent less of what was recited to them the night before. Those who slept worse remembered less.
Complicated grief is the kind of grief that is all consuming and results in feelings of hopelessness. And it doesn't just affect a person emotionally, either. When Harvard University psychological scientists studied people going through the grieving process, they found that those suffering from complicated grief (as opposed to those experiencing normal grief) had both memory and imagination impairments.
You're on a new medication.
There are quite a few prescription drugs that list memory loss as a side effect. According to a report from the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with the CDC, some of the medications that can impact memory include antihistamines, anti-anxiety and antidepressants, sleep aids, antipsychotics, muscle relaxants, antimuscarinics, and antispasmodics. If you're worried that your pills are causing your forgetfulness, talk to your doctor about switching medications and see if things improve.
You have a thyroid disorder.
You may not even realize it, but an under-active thyroid could be the root of your memory problems. Per one meta-analysis published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people with even a mild thyroid disorder are at "a significant risk of cognitive alteration." After analyzing 13 studies, the researchers behind the report concluded that people with hypothyroidism have a 56 percent increased chance of impaired cognitive function and an 81 percent increased risk of dementia. And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
You have a concussion.
If your forgetfulness started after a bad accident, then you might be experiencing the side effects of a concussion. Per one study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, people with even mild concussions can experience memory impairment for anywhere from three to seven days after their injury.
You're having a silent stroke.
According to a report published in Harvard Women's Health Watch, for every one patient who suffers from a typical stroke, there are 14 patients who suffer from what's called a "silent stroke." However, these two afflictions don't just differ in how they manifest. While a regular stroke impairs functions like vision and speech, a silent stroke impacts the parts of the brain that don't show obvious symptoms—like the areas that store memory.
You have multiple sclerosis.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, approximately 50 percent of all MS patients will experience "difficulties at some point with some aspect of thinking." Based on documented cases, the most common types of memory difficulties associated with MS include forgetting recent events and forgetting things you planned to do. The good news? Most often these issues are perfectly manageable and don't develop into complete memory loss.
Your kidneys aren't functioning properly.
Both the brain and the kidneys are impacted by changes in the cardiovascular system. So when a person experiences any sort of change to their renal function, they'll often experience changes in their brain chemistry, too. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases analyzed data from more than 2,000 people and found that patients with albuminuria—a symptom of kidney disease—were 50 percent more likely to have dementia than those without any indicators of kidney damage.
And in another study published in the journal Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation, researchers concluded that "early detection of mild to moderate kidney disease is an important public health concern with regard to cognitive decline."
That phenomenon they call "pregnancy brain" is no joke. Between all the hormones raging through your body during pregnancy and your inability to sleep soundly, your brain is way too tired and focused on other things—namely, carrying a child—to worry about remembering a doctor's appointment. In fact, one study published in the journal Endocrine Abstracts found that pregnant women had worse spatial memories than non-pregnant women—and the further along in the pregnancy they were, the worse their spatial memory.
You have Alzheimer's disease.
In the older population, the most prevalent type of dementia—or loss of cognitive function—is Alzheimer's disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.8 million people currently live with the disease in the United States alone, and one of the most common symptoms is forgetting things like names, dates, and important events to the point that it disrupts daily life.