You have misplaced your car keys. It is the third time this week. Is this the beginning of dementia? Maybe. Maybe not.

Many things in our lives run to the extreme. On the one extreme, memory loss and confusion were once considered a normal part of aging. Now we know that people can remain alert and vibrant well into their senior years.

So, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. With every little slip of memory, we worry that it is the beginning of dementia. In between these two extremes, and before we jump to the worst conclusions, there are many factors that contribute to forgetfulness.

Dehydration

Dehydration is the easiest problem to correct. Our brain is very greedy for our body’s resources, like water and oxygen – and with good reason. Our brain is the manager of all the other functions in our body.

In a case of serious dehydration, of course, we would die. However, before we get to that point, there are many symptoms. Some are physical like dry mouth or reduced urine volume, but many of the symptoms of mild dehydration directly affect our brain.

We may feel tired or sleepy, get a headache, feel dizzy or light-headed, or have some confusion or lack of focus. Correcting this problem is rather simple: drink more water every day.

Develop routines around drinking water to remind yourself to keep at it. You could buy yourself a pretty water glass or a snazzy water bottle or leave glasses of water strategically throughout your home, so you can always reach for a drink. The other causes of brain fog are not as easily fixed.

Lack of Sleep

We go through periods when we don’t get enough sleep and for the most part we can manage okay. However, when lack of restful sleep becomes chronic, it has a major impact on our memory, focus and reasoning.

Consider learning a three-step process. First, we gain the knowledge. Next, our brain works at integrating and storing this new information. Then, we can recall what we learned.

The first and third steps occur when we are awake. A large part of the second step occurs while we are asleep. Therefore, when we don’t get enough quality sleep, the middle stage of integrating the information is compromised.

For some people, going to bed earlier will solve this problem. For others, the problem is not going to bed but falling asleep and that is much harder to control.

Things that help some people include:

  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol later in the day,
  • eliminating the use of TV and other screen usage for an hour or two before bed,
  • practicing some progressive relaxation before bed.

Others find that a nap during the day takes the edge off their tiredness. If your sleeplessness continues, you may want to consult a sleep specialist or a healthcare provider.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm happens when your brain has too much to handle. It doesn’t matter if those things are considered negative or positive. For example, you may be hosting a family gathering with many out-of-town relatives.

Between planning where people are staying, who is bringing what and what times all the activities are happening, it sometimes feels like our brain is in a spin and we can barely remember our own name – never mind how many grandchildren cousin Martha has.

Now amplify this over weeks or months of large and small events in our lives. We may start to worry that something is seriously wrong with our brain when it is only trying to deal with so many events at once.

If we identify that this may be the cause of our forgetfulness, the solution may be to look at the calendar to see how we can ease the burden on our brain.

Grief Can Also Contribute to Forgetfulness

Grief can break your heart. It can also stomp on your brain. Grief involves so many emotions and so many thoughts. With our brain being our body’s control centre, it would need to process all those thoughts and emotions of grief.

With our brain burdened by dealing with that, routine things in our life become neglected. Is it surprising, then, that we forget mundane things like putting the milk back in the fridge or whether we have even had lunch today?

We might expect grief to follow a gradual decline as time passes. Unfortunately, our brains don’t always deal with things in a linear fashion, and the thoughts and feelings can intensify unexpectedly.

Medication

Some medications can influence our memory and alertness. If you take a medicine and notice that you aren’t thinking as clearly as you would like, or you don’t remember things, it is important to contact your healthcare provider.

Be sure to let him or her know all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take.

Other Medical Issues

Beyond dementia, there are other medical conditions that may lead to brain fog and forgetfulness. If you have even the slightest concern about your brain health, be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider.

There are many factors that affect our focus and memory. Some are lifestyle, and some are medical. Sometimes we fear the worst and put off addressing the issue when it may not be a serious illness at all. Early recognition of the problem is best. Then steps can be taken to correct or manage it.

Take this 20 question self-assessment quiz to see if your lifestyle supports brain-healthy habits.

Do you ever feel forgetful and worry that it might be the beginning of dementia? Have you ever grappled with any of these issues and were able to resolve them? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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