Everyone forgets things from time to time — even the young and healthy. As we age, forgetfulness can become more prevalent, but it may not be a sign of a significant underlying health problem, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
In fact, there are a number of memory problems that are completely normal and not reflective of serious mental health issues. These problems can affect people in their teens, twenties, thirties, and beyond. And, unless they’re a part of daily life, they shouldn’t raise any eyebrows among those afflicted or their physician. In order to help calm those who might be worried about certain memory issues, let’s explore some of these normal memory problems.
Everyone has episodes of absentmindedness. Some people forget to put away their dishes or cutlery after eating a meal. Others might regularly forget where they set down their pen. And while these little episodes of absentmindedness can be frustrating — for the afflicted as well as those close to them — they are not necessarily a sign of an underlying and significant memory problem.
Absentmindedness should only raise alarms if it begins to make getting through the typical day visibly difficult — for example, if one begins forgetting to carry out important routine tasks, such as taking prescribed medicine or remembering where they parked their vehicle.
Sometimes people add little details to their stories to make them more interesting; it’s known as embellishing. In other cases, the storyteller only remembers part of the story or they misattribute some of the details. This is known as misattribution and often leads to the same result as embellishment.
Misattribution happens, though, and it shouldn’t concern anyone unless it begins to make carrying out daily activities, like doing one’s job, more difficult than it should be. Misattribution can be particularly problematic for writers and researchers who may find themselves unintentionally plagiarizing others or inaccurately recalling important details associated with an event or idea.
Some people have a tendency to be highly suggestible — meaning that their grasp of certain details is weak enough that someone else can nudge them to a different (and possibly inaccurate) position on an issue. For example, a particularly persuasive politician may be able to convince someone who is highly suggestible to believe something highly inaccurate about the past.
Generally speaking, we all have moments of suggestibility; after all, none of us has a perfect grasp of the past. Additionally, suggestibility can combine with other factors — such as lack of education, mental health problems, or emerging beliefs — to lead them to conclusions that may not reflect real life.
Ever been in a situation where someone asks you a question and you feel like the answer is right on the tip of your tongue but just won’t come out? That’s a problem often referred to as “blocking,” and it happens when you’re unable to retrieve a memory that, in most situations, wouldn’t be all that difficult to recall.
Blocking is normal, so long as it doesn’t happen all the time. Often, it’s caused by one memory getting in the way of another one, making it difficult to retrieve the information you’re looking for. Blocking becomes more prevalent as one ages, but until it prevents us from getting through a typical day, it really isn’t anything to worry about.
Over time, our memories change, often as a result of changes in our lives. For example, our memory of a certain childhood event may be affected by the development of new religious or political beliefs or new feelings about the people who were involved in creating that memory.
In essence, our memories are shaped by our biases, which can include everything from positions on prominent political issues to the mood we’re in when reflecting on a memory. As we attempt to recall memories, and especially those from deep in our memory bank, we put them through a filter that’s affected by our experiences, beliefs, knowledge, and emotions.
Transience involves the forgetting of events, names, places, and ideas over time — including long or short periods of time. This is perfectly normal, as most people do not have the brain functionality required to immediately absorb every small detail that one hears in a typical day.
Take, for example, being in a history class and hearing the date and place of George Washington’s birth. While it may be problematic to forget these details after hearing them for the fifth or sixth times, no one would expect you to remember this information after hearing it for a single time. Additionally, this is the kind of information that tends to fade from our memory banks rather easily and rapidly. That’s perfectly normal.