Memory and forgetfulness


Like our bodies, our brains change as we age. Some of us can find that our memory recall and remembering new information can be more challenging than it was previously. It is important, though, to differentiate between mile forgetfulness and cognitive decline that leads to more serious memory challenges like dementia.

Occasional forgetfulness can be normal at any age, especially if we are distracted or under a lot of stress. More severe memory issues can prevent us from being able to perform ordinary daily tasks such as using appliances, driving, or being able to find our way home. Other indications of more serious memory issues include:

  • Confusion, especially around time, places, and people
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Experiencing difficulties following recipes or directions
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Physical neglect like not eating well, forgetting to take medications, and neglecting personal hygiene.

While forgetfulness can be considered a relatively normal part of ageing, dementia is not. The following table lists the differences between the two.  

Normal Ageing

Dementia / Cognitive Decline

Struggling to find a word in a conversation

Using incorrect words consistently and unable to communicate coherently

Forgetting what day it is, but remembering later

Not knowing what day it is and not being able to recall later

Forgetting to pay a single bill

Forgetting to make any regular payments or what to do

Making the occasional bad decision

Consistently making bad decisions and having poor judgment

Losing the odd item occasionally

Always losing things without being able to find them

Dementia is caused by degenerative changes in the brain which affect a person’s cognitive abilities.

Functions like reasoning, learning, thinking, and remembering information become impaired which negatively affect a person’s quality of life and their ability to perform daily tasks. Dementia can also disrupt a person’s ability to pay attention, to communicate verbally, and their visual perception and some people with dementia even experience a change in their personality.

Problems with memory can also be due to other factors, including:

  • Depression
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Kidney or liver issues
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Blood clots
  • Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep
  • Head injuries
  • Concussion
  • Side effects from medications
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Poor diet
  • Traumatic life events

Many of the above reasons will cause temporary problems with memory but will improve with the necessary lifestyle changes or interventions.

Healthy lifestyle choices can enhance our memory and keep our brains active and functioning well. These include: 

  • Regular cardiovascular exercise
  • Eating enough healthy fats
  • Sleeping well
  • Keeping mentally active
  • Following a healthy, balanced diet

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 7 December 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am.