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Memory Lapses: What's Normal, What's Not

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What to Expect When You're Forgetting

A tool using PET scan technology to detect Alzheimer's could be approved by the FDA this year. But experts debate whether it's definitive and who should be tested. For now, talk to your M.D. and check out this list of signs that nothing's wrong or something's amiss.

Normal: Misplacing car keys
Not So Normal: Not remembering what car keys are for or finding them in an odd place like the freezer

Normal: Worrying about your memory
Not So Normal: Others telling you they're worried about your memory

Normal: Periodically forgetting names of acquaintances
Not So Normal: Struggling to remember names of close friends and associates

Normal: Forgetting why you walked into a room
Not So Normal: Difficulty completing everyday tasks, like cooking a meal or making a call

Normal: Occasionally having trouble finding the right word
Not So Normal: Searching for names of everyday items, like a vase or a tea kettle

Normal: At times not remembering where you're going
Not So Normal: Getting lost in your own neighborhood and not being able to get home

Normal: Forgetting what you ate while recently out to dinner with friends
Not So Normal: Not recalling the entire experience

When It's Not Alzheimer's

Don't jump to the dark side just yet. Trouble remembering is most often attributable to a range of less serious—and reversible—causes. If you are concerned about your recall, ask your M.D. if it could be...

...Depression Considered a major cause of memory loss in middle age, the fog of this mental illness often makes people too unfocused and inattentive to file and recall passing events in and out of memory.

...Menopause Declining estrogen levels during and around menopause are associated with some decrease in recollection.

...Hypertension Untreated, this disease can chip away at your memory by cutting down on blood flow to the brain.

...Diabetes Poorly controlled glucose levels in patients with diabetes have been shown to impair recollection in the short and long term.

...Sleep Deprivation Being tired makes it more difficult to pay attention and visually process information, which are key to the creation and filing of memories in the brain. What's more, individuals with sleep apnea—a disorder in which a blocked airway repeatedly halts a sleeper's breathing—show tissue loss in brain regions that help store memories.

...Thyroid Dysfunction Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism disrupt a number of key steps in the memory formation and retrieval process.

...A Vitamin Deficiency Vitamin B12 is crucial to brain health because it helps preserve myelin, the fatty sheath that protects brain cells or neurons. Left untreated, a B12 deficiency can cause permanent neuronal damage, including trouble remembering.

...Your Medication Memory loss is a side effect of several drugs, including some urinary incontinence drugs, over-the-counter sleep medications, certain antidepressants, and some steroidal drugs prescribed for chronic arthritis.

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