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Common causes of memory slips, from the February 2013 Harvard Men's Health Watch

Worried that you’re getting more forgetful lately? Chill out, because the stress can contribute to memory slips. In fact, stress is one of the four horsemen of forgetfulness in aging brains, along with anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation, reports the February 2013 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

When memory seems to slip, many older people wonder if they are sliding into Alzheimer's disease. Most of the time, the cause of that forgetfulness is something more common and easily remedied.

Disturbances in mood and sleep are among the most common causes of memory problems in adults. Stress and anxiety make it harder to concentrate and lock in new information. Depression can hobble memory, as can alcohol consumption. Some medications can interfere with memory, as can some medical conditions.

A conversation with a doctor can help pinpoint the cause of memory slips—especially if the change is sudden or uncharacteristic. “If it’s worse than it was a few months ago, or somebody is asking you about it, that would definitely be something to see a doctor about,” says Dr. Anne Fabiny, chief of geriatrics at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Sometimes it's useful to just give the brain a break. “As you get older, it may become more difficult to maintain a high level of attention for several things at once,” Dr. Fabiny says. “Dividing your attention can definitely cause you to think you are having memory problems.”

Read the full-length article: “The four horsemen of forgetfulness”

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Do multivitamins protect you from disease?
  • On call: Why have an annual exam?
  • On call: Carotid ultrasound to prevent stroke
  • The four horsemen of forgetfulness
  • Heartburn medication side effects: Should you worry?
  • How to get ready for a new knee
  • When drugs for erectile dysfunction don't work: What's next?
  • In the journals: Exercise for cancer fatigue
  • In the journals: Steroid injections for sciatica: Mild, short-term relief
  • In the journals: Fish oil does not prevent irregular heart rhythms after surgery
  • In the journals: No added risk for vision loss after cataract removal

More Harvard Health News »


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Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.