Memory Problems: Are They Normal or Should You Be Worried?

Memory problems can appear when you're still young and may have different origins. Find out about their main causes and how to address them.
Memory Problems: Are They Normal or Should You Be Worried?

Last update: 27 March, 2022

Memory problems usually aren’t a problem until we reach a certain age. In fact, we tend to take the efficient operation of our memory for granted and assume that we won’t experience clinically significant failures unless we develop some form of dementia. However, many people begin to experience memory problems in their 40s or even earlier and might wonder if they need to seek help.

As a matter of fact, it’s recommended that we should be aware that the functioning of our memory can fluctuate for various reasons, some natural and others pathological. With this knowledge, we can prevent or solve many of these problems. In this article, we’ll tell you the main causes of memory problems and what you can do about them.

Main causes of memory problems

Perhaps, for some time now, you’ve noticed that you’ve become more absent-minded and disorganized. You forget your keys, your cellphone, or your shopping list and have trouble remembering names. Or, you’ve missed some appointments due to forgetfulness. What’s happening to you? Should you worry?

The answer is difficult to determine but it’s likely that your difficulties are due to one of the following reasons.

Man thinking worried about afantasy
Many people begin to experience memory problems in their 40s.

1. The passage of time

This is one of the most important factors. In fact, it’s been discovered that memory usually reaches its peak in your 20s and, from this moment, begins to decline. Thus, even if you have years left before you reach old age, you may begin to notice certain difficulties that didn’t exist before. This doesn’t only mean that you’ll find it harder to learn a new language or study a theoretical subject, but you’ll also feel an effect in your daily life.

Bear in mind that there are two processes in the function of memory:

  • Coding and storage of information. This is produced by receiving the data and processing it in such a way that it goes into long-term memory.
  • The recovery of information. It occurs when you try to access the contents that you’ve stored in your memory.

With age, both processes become more complicated. On the one hand, you may need any information to be repeated in order to encode it. On the other, recovery may take longer and you might need clues. Nevertheless, these are natural processes that shouldn’t worry you.

2. Lack of attention

Occasionally, what appears to be memory problems are actually the result of a lack of attention. We’re not talking here about a disorder like ADHD, but about an accelerated and hurried lifestyle that doesn’t allow you to really pay attention to what you’re doing.

When you’re rushing, you often overlook important day-to-day data. Consequently, you can’t code properly.

For example, say you forgot that your partner asked you to buy milk, or that your son told you he needed a costume for school. It could be because, at the time of the conversation, you were engrossed in other tasks and simply weren’t paying enough attention.

3. Organic diseases

Certain diseases, such as thyroid, kidney, and liver disorders, can be behind memory problems. Likewise, a lack of the vitamins B12, B6, and B9, caused by a poor diet can also be an important factor.

4. Substance or medication use

There’s enough evidence available to prove the effects that drugs can have on your cognitive abilities, including memory. However, alcohol (no matter how normalized its consumption is) can also seriously affect your memory if it’s not consumed in moderation. Furthermore, it won’t only cause transitory effects, but long-term damage as well.

The consumption of certain medications (anxiolytics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, cholesterol drugs, etc) can also interfere with memory function.

5. Emotional problems

When everyday situations overwhelm you and you fail to manage your emotions properly, your memory can be affected. For instance, if you suffer from a high level of stress, live in a conflictive environment, or are grieving, it’s logical that your mental capacities won’t be at their optimum point.

Likewise, anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental disorders can cause difficulties in encoding or retrieving information.

6. Cognitive impairment and dementia

In addition to cognitive decline associated with aging, more serious symptoms may occur. These are generally associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Sometimes, people experience mild cognitive impairment that doesn’t progress, but in many cases, it ends up leading to dementia.

Preventing and addressing memory problems

As you can see, some of the causes of memory problems are natural and others are pathological. However, it’s not always easy to differentiate between them. For this reason, you should take a look at and answer the following questions in order to work out if you need professional help :

  • Are your memory problems significantly interfering with your daily functioning? For example, are they preventing you from fulfilling your tasks and obligations, hindering your social relationships, or causing you suffering?
  • Are you experiencing difficulty in accessing information and memories, even if you have enough time and are given clues?

Even if your memory problems aren’t serious, there are certain measures you can take to prevent their appearance or slow down their progress. Among the most important are the following:

  • Rest properly. That’s because insufficient or poor-quality sleep will interfere with your cognitive functioning.
  • Eat healthily. This will give you all the nutrients necessary for proper brain function. Don’t forget to include foods such as nuts, avocado, olive oil, or fish in your diet. In addition, moderate your alcohol intake.
  • Exercise regularly. It’s been discovered that practicing aerobic physical activity helps improve cognitive functions. Running or walking for 30 to 60 minutes three to five times a week should be enough.
  • Adopt practices such as mindfulness or meditation. These techniques are excellent for combating the fast pace of life and mental chaos. Consequently, it’ll be easier for you to pay attention and, therefore, encode information.
  • Learn to manage and regulate your emotions before they overwhelm you. It may be enough to share your feelings with someone close to you. Alternatively, you can also help yourself with therapeutic writing. However, you may need psychological help.
Woman with eyes closed
Practicing mindfulness relaxes your mind and helps it to be more focused.

Memory problems should be evaluated by a professional

If your memory problems persist or interfere with your life, don’t hesitate in visiting your doctor. They’ll be able to identify or rule out any organic causes that may be generating them, make adjustments to any medication, and propose appropriate guidelines, depending on the diagnosis.

Above all, ensure you keep your mind sharp and active with small challenges and daily workouts. Remember, your memory is like a muscle: if it’s not exercised, it may well deteriorate.

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  • Guadagni, V., Drogos, L. L., Tyndall, A. V., Davenport, M. H., Anderson, T. J., Eskes, G. A., … & Poulin, M. J. (2020). Aerobic exercise improves cognition and cerebrovascular regulation in older adults. Neurology94(21), e2245-e2257.
  • Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Tangalakis, K., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2016). Cognitive decline: a vitamin B perspective. Maturitas93, 108-113.