memory problems
Health Life

6 Memory Problems That Indicate You’ve Entered “Middle Age”


By Lisa Beach of Tweenior Moments

We’ve got a running joke in our family about my sporadic memory that begins with me uttering the phrase, “I think I’ll try the Pad Thai.” Here’s the quick backstory:

We go to Pei Wei for dinner every few months. It’s got great Asian food, freshly made and reasonably priced. The menu doesn’t change much, and there aren’t an overwhelming amount of entrees, maybe 15 or so.

So we go into Pei Wei and we’re all reading the menu posted by the front door, and I begin my usual ingredient-scan of all the entrees looking for a great mix of veggies with a mildly spicy sauce. I come to the Pad Thai Noodle Bowl – Thai sweet and sour sauce, tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, crushed peanuts, lime, cilantro, rice noodles. Sounds like heaven, so I say, “I think I’ll try the Pad Thai.” My family turns to look at me to see if I’m kidding, and my boys say, in unison, “Mom, you order that every time we come here.” I do? News to me. I seriously have a mental block about this. WTH?

This, of course, makes me head to the Internet to self-diagnosis my impending dementia, looking to check off all the warning signs of early Alzheimer’s. While the occasional memory lapse can be both embarrassing and a gentle reminder that both my brain and body are on the downslide of life, this article on Huffington Post makes me feel a whole lot better.

In the article, Daniel Schacter, a psychology professor at Harvard University, lays out six common memory flaws (that might become more prevalent with aging), but aren’t necessarily markers of dementia. Woohoo! I’m in the clear…for now.

1. Transience. This tendency to forget facts over time explains why I no longer remember Avogadro’s number from my high school chemistry class. (Strangely, this does not explain why I do recall weird memory nuggets from decades ago, like etiquette-teaching and the good-behavior-promoting Mr. Do-Bee from my preschool days of watching Romper Room.) But think of this memory flaw as “Braino,” a helpful brain cleaner that rids the mind of useless memories that clog up your gray matter (like algebra algorithms) to make space for newer, more useful ones (like when the season premiere of Modern Family airs).

2. Absent-mindedness. This tendency to walk through life like a multi-tasking zombie explains how I’m thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner while I rush upstairs to get my, to get my…to get my…wait, how can I forget what I came upstairs for in the three seconds it takes me to rush upstairs? This mindlessness fogs my brain into a semi-catatonic state, like when I walk around the house looking for my car keys with my car keys in my hand wondering why I can’t find my damn car keys.

3. Blocking. This “it’s-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue” memory lapse happens when I know I know what I know, but either I just can’t recall it…or I remember a similar, but incorrect, memory – like when I call one of my favorite comedic actors (Jason Bateman) by his sister’s name (Justine) because I remember her first from her days on Family Ties way before I knew she even had a cute older brother. (By the way, Justine was great in Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses, wasn’t he?)

4. Misattribution. This “partially-accurate-but-the-rest-is-BS” memory problem is like an article you might find in the National Enquirer – a speck of fact buried in the middle of a distorted story. This explains why I once showed up for a mammogram (minus deodorant, as directed) and all I really had scheduled was a teeth cleaning at the dentist. (This, of course, made me late for my dental appointment, both because I showed up at the wrong place and because I had to stop at CVS to buy Lady Speed Stick on the way.) But the point is, I knew I had some kind of medical appointment. I just screwed up a few of the details.

5. Suggestibility. This memory lapse falls prey to the power of suggestion. One time, I was convinced that Kevin and I had been to a particular boardwalk in New Jersey until he pointed out I was thinking about that scene from Big when little Tom Hanks (standing on some boardwalk) pumps a quarter into Zoltar and makes his wish to be big. I swear we had been there before. And I did live in New Jersey for 10 years, so it’s not like this was a total impossibility.

6. Bias. This tendency to allow your personal biases to influence your memory of an event explains why I had two children instead of just one. The miracle of birth and the blessings of a new baby completely overshadowed the vivid reality of the painful, uncomfortable, messy, sleep-deprived, energy-sapping, body-killing, budget-busting experience that childbirth really was.

So, I’m six for six on this list – great for a football pool, not so much for a memory loss checklist. But I’m clinging to the fact these temporary lapses are common among people of all ages.

Side Note: While I’m writing this, my mom – who is 78 and has a better memory than I most days – called me and asked, “Are you coming over soon?” And I said, “For what?” because I don’t recall having made any plans to do anything with my mom today. And then she reminded me I had promised just last night to return a basket I’d borrowed from her. Just 12 short hours ago. Sigh.

On the bright side, we’re going out to dinner tonight at Pei Wei. I think I might try the Pad Thai.

This post originally appeared on Tweenior Moments.


About the Author

Lisa Beach is a freelance writer, blogger, mother of two teenagers, and recovering stay-at-home mom/homeschooler who lived to write about it. She’s been featured on Scary Mommy/Club Mid, BonBon Break, Your Teen, In the Powder Room, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Humor Outcasts and more. Check out Tweenior Moments, Lisa’s humor blog about midlife, family, friends and all the baggage that goes with it.