Experts say some memory lapses are actually normal. So before you go diagnosing yourself with Alzheimer's disease, take heart. It is said that memory loss is the second thing that occurs as you age. So what's the first? Umm, I forgot! Actually, by the time you reach the end of this story, you may remember only a fraction of it. Don't worry, you're not alone.

Mild memory loss is perfectly normal, especially as we age. It has happened to all of us at one time or another; You draw a complete blank when introducing a new acquaintance. You leave the house with food bubbling on the stove. You forget to pick up your child from after-school practice. You forget a doctor's appointment, a birthday, an anniversary. Oh - and let's not forget the all-too-often search for car keys.

If you sometimes forget simple things, you're not necessarily developing Alzheimer's disease. There are many people like yourself walking around who occasionally misplace their keys, who can't recall the name of one new person they met at their last office party, and have that “deer-in-the-headlights” look when searching for their car in the parking lot. There's a reason Disney has character-themed floors coupled with the happy-go-lucky music in their parking garages.

Memory, the ability to normally recall the facts and events of our lives, takes place in three stages:
Stage 1 – Encoding: When a person takes information in.
Stage 2 – Consolidation: When the brain takes the encoded information and processes it, storing it in certain areas of the brain.
Stage 3 – Retrieval:. When someone recalls stored information in the brain.

For a layman, differentiating between normal memory loss and Alzheimer's disease can be puzzling because the kind of memory that is affected in everyday situations is also the kind affected in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Time is memory's worst enemy. Memory loss and brain aging are a natural part of getting older. In their 50s, people will often start to report that they think their memories are going. Because they have to use more reminders or more kinds of strategies for remembering things, older adults seem to be consciously aware of their memory loss.

But even before we hit our 50s, memory loss can start to occur. Shortly after receiving information, our memory begins to deteriorate. Some information fades right away, while other things fade less quickly. There are many different forgetting curves with different rates of forgetting that depend on the nature of the material, on how important the information is to you, and how high your stress levels are.

Studies show that after some time, people probably don't remember events as they actually happened. You may think you have a vivid memory of an experience, but memory distortion does occur. The longer the period of time that passes between an event and trying to recall it, the greater the chance people are going to have some memory distortions and forgetfulness. Occasionally, time distortion causes us to forget the event completely.

Short of Alzheimer's disease, other causes of memory loss can include: stress and anxiety, ADHD, depression, thyroid gland diseases, diabetes, lung, liver, or kidney failure, alcoholism, Vitamin B-12 deficiency, infections, and both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Depression and stress are the most common reasons for temporary memory problems. The causes of memory loss from many of these conditions are normally reversible.

No matter how "normal" memory lapses may be, that doesn't make them any less frustrating. Experts agree that the best way to keep your brain fit is to keep using it. Four things that slow down brain aging include: mental activity, physical fitness, stress reduction, and a healthy diet. Those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other conditions increase their risk for small strokes in the brain. Also antioxidants help protect brain cells and exercise helps with overall health.

The most important things to help extend and maintain your cognitive abilities for a longer period of time include staying intellectually and socially engaged. Also by challenging yourself by learning new things, reading, and taking up hobbies keep the brain active and strong for the long haul.

Some other things you can do to improve memory include: Focusing your attention on the task at hand. Multitasking and not paying attention are two of the biggest causes of forgetfulness. Reduce stress, get plenty of sleep, organize yourself by writing things down or using date books.

When should you see a doctor? Research shows that up to half of people over age 50 have mild forgetfulness linked to age-associated memory impairment. But there are signs when more serious memory conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, are happening. While there is no definitive way to pinpoint Alzheimer's, there are some diagnostic ways doctors distinguish normal memory loss from that which should raise concern. Normal forgetfulness can include: forgetting where you parked your car, forgetting a person's name, but can recall it later, or forgetting events from your past. More serious symptoms and possible problems of forgetfulness include: recalling recent events, how to drive a car, forgetting to have ever known a particular person, confusion, and loss of function.

Many doctors feel that if you are worried about your memory, the problem probably isn't that serious. However you should consult a doctor when your relatives or friends express concerns about your memory loss.

Author's Bio: 

Jeannine Virtue is a freelance journalist who writes on a variety of topics relating to ADHD, memory, depression and stress. Visit the Attention Deficit Disorder Help Center at for effective drug-free alternatives to Ritalin, Concerta and other ADHD medications. Email Jeannine Virtue at