Misplacing your car keys, going blank on the name of a colleague’s wife, and spacing on why you walked into a room can set you into a panic—is your memory already fading? Could it be early-onset Alzheimer's?
Chill. Cognitive loss is inevitable as you age, but according to a 10-year study of 10,000 adults published in the British Medical Journal, for most people it won’t start until around age 45. Yes, a few reports have said the slow decline starts as early as 27, but other research shows your mind is still growing at that time. “Development of the frontal lobe, which controls complex reasoning, continues for some people into their 20s or even late 30s,” says Gary Small, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and author of iBrain. “Plus there's a protective coating around long ‘wires’ connecting brain cells that peaks around age 39, so signals traveling along these wires get faster.”
The reason for your mind fumbles is likely very simple. “Most short-term memory loss is stress-related,” says Carolyn Brockington, M.D., director of the Stroke Program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. [Tweet this sigh of relief!] “We're all running around doing a million things, and although many people think they can multitask well, the brain sometimes has trouble moving from one thing to another and back again.” The problem isn’t your memory or even the multitasking; it’s that you need to concentrate more and make a conscious memory of things that you'll want to recall later, like that you left your keys on a hook by the door.
If your forgetfulness starts to disrupt your daily functions, such as accomplishing your work or taking care of your family, then you might have a problem that you shouldn't ignore. “There are a variety of medical conditions that can affect your memory, such as thyroid disease, vitamin deficiencies, and anemia,” Brockington says. If you think your situation is more than stress, keep a list of the instances when and where your memory failed you, and when you have five or more examples, talk to your doctor. She can help address any underlying conditions and possibly reverse the memory damage, and determine if you need further neuro-psychological testing.
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Otherwise, focus on your health. “What you do to your body when you're young affects your brain,” Small says. “Anxiety, depression, drug abuse, unhealthy diet, inactivity, poor sleep, and other external factors can all influence your memory in the long run.” For even more protection against premature senior moments, adopt the following simple mental tricks to keep your internal hard drive operating at max optimization.