Memory Problems Normal vs Not Normal

May 15, 2023

Healthy YOU | Memory Care
Mom and Daughter

As we age, we often notice memory changes we didn’t have before. And everyone wants to reduce their risk for memory challenges like mild cognitive impairment or Dementia. However, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s a normal part of aging and what might signal a more serious condition.

Signs of memory problems

“Identifying memory changes is the first step in helping someone you love understand what’s occurring,” explains Tina Thomas, DHA, MSHP, CDP, CADDCT, Executive Director of The Martha W. Goodson Center. Signs of memory changes can include the following:

  • Repeating the same questions or stories over and over
  • Becoming disoriented or getting lost in familiar places.
  • Getting confused about time, places, and people.

Causes of memory problems.

Natural, changes in memory and thinking occurs as we age. However, some external factors can lead to memory changes. “It’s important to rule out other possible causes,” says Thomas. These other causes can include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Blood clot
  • Brain tumor
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Head injury
  • Heart disease
  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Sleeping disorder
  • Thyroid disease
  • Vitamin deficiency

Which memory changes are a normal part of aging?

Brain and memory functions are complicated processes. The brain controls our ability to think, plan, organize and make choices. Different areas of the brain react differently to the aging process. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.


As we age, it’s normal to keep the following memory functions:

  • Procedural memory – How to complete everyday tasks.
  • Remote memory – Events from a long time ago
  • Semantic recall – General information


As we age, it’s normal to notice changes in the following memory functions:

  • Ability to multi-task
  • Certain language functions, including recalling names and words quickly
  • Learning complex-new information
  • Speed of mental processing and reaction time

What is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?

“MCI is a change in brain function that is more than expected for a person of their age,” explains Thomas. Many people with MCI can still go about their daily life activities, including working and driving a car. However, people with this condition may have the following challenges:

  • Completing complex, multi-step tasks, such as paying bills, doing household chores, or taking regular medications
  • Forgetting appointments
  • Forgetting recent events
  • Forgetting the names of close friends and family
  • Repeating the same question over and over
  • Trouble focusing

MCI can sometimes be a steppingstone to more serious memory problems such as early dementia (progressive loss of brain function, including memory) but not in all cases. Some people with MCI will never go on to develop dementia. However, it’s key to note: MCI is not a normal part of the brain’s aging process, and it indicates an unusual level of cognitive decline.


Reducing your risk

One way to reduce your risk for developing age-related memory problems is by eating a healthy diet. Eating foods rich in carotenoids (brightly colored vegetables, including spinach, kale, orange bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and carrots) and omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds and cold-water fish like salmon and tuna) can help protect your brain’s function as you age.

Another science-based way to preserve your memory function is by exercising at least twice a week, manage stress and have yearly wellness visit and cognitive assessment. Staying socially engaged and regularly enjoying activities with people who share common interests are other great ways to keep your brain healthy as you age.


Make an appointment

Take steps now to help your brain and memory stay in tip-top shape for years to come. Schedule an appointment with a Riverside Health System provider to make sure you’re doing all you can to stay healthy as you age.

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