Are you forgetting some things? Don’t panic

I am of the age when many of my contemporaries worry about dementia. This results in them taking steps that they think will lower the probability of that happening, such as exercise and learning new things. There are many articles such as this one that make recommendations to stave off dementia using just lifestyle changes alone. Following all the recommendations can be overwhelming. I don’t know how much they actually help but they are good things to do for their own sake because they enrich life and even if people do them out of a mistaken belief in their neurological efficacy, they are still worthwhile.

But some people worry a little too much and one hears them talking about forgetting things that they feel they should remember as a worrisome symptom. I had a colleague who specialized in researching Alzheimer’s and he said that people would constantly ask him whether the fact that they forget some things should concern them. He said that people tend to read too much into simple acts of forgetting. He advises people that if they forget where they parked their car in the campus parking lot, that is not something to worry about. But if they forget whether they drove to work or not, that is more serious.

One of the common experiences is where one goes to another room far something and then upon getting there forgets what it was, as happens to Goat here.

(Pearls Before Swine)

This is actually common and there is a reason for this called ‘the doorway effect’ that is a consequence of the limits of working memory that causes short term erasure of some memories just by the act of going through a doorway. I wrote about this phenomenon a couple of years ago.

So despite Rat’s gloomy prognosis, don’t worry if that happens to you! You are not losing your mind.


  1. anat says

    Well, if like me you are forgetting small things more often you are probably losing your mind, but at this point very slowly. I have been having difficulty finding the correct words for things (or often, I do remember the word, but in the wrong language) for many years. My memories of events also feel less crisp than they used to, or so it seems, and I find myself not remembering conversations from a few days earlier. As a result I am very interested in multi-modal preventive and curative approaches to dementia. (Dale Bredesen, one of the pioneers of these approaches, claims to have used such methods not only for prevention but for actual reversal of cognitive decline in several dozens of patients). I have been improving my diet, increasing the amount and diversity of exercise I do, adding memory-challenging activities (in my case, learning languages and expanding vocabulary in my current languages), and trying to sleep better. Of all the above, sleep is the area I have found the most difficult to improve.

  2. mnb0 says

    “ask him whether the fact that they forget some things should concern them”
    If yes I’ve been suffering from Alzheimer since I was 13. All those decades I was concerned because it annoys me.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I think that name aphasia (forgetting the names of things and people) is quite common as one gets older and, while annoying, should not be a great source of anxiety. I used to be able to rapidly recall trivia like the names of actors, films, books, characters and so on. Now it takes a while. I try not to let it bother me.

  4. lanir says

    As we get older we also have far more information to sift through to find what we’re looking for. If this isn’t an instant process that’s probably not a big deal. I’m not sure how or if this relates to biology, but with computers you can store information in a database. When there isn’t much information and there’s a lot of memory and processing power it doesn’t matter too much if the act of retrieving information is efficient or not. But once there’s an awful lot to look through to find your answer, efficiency becomes much more important.

    If there are any parallels with how the brain works (I have no idea, I’m not a biologist much less a neurologist) then maybe some of this is just due to the size of the data set involved and has nothing to do with the mechanisms for retrieval breaking down.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    In 1983 Douglas Adams and John Lloyd wrote “The Meaning of Liff”, which defined “Woking” thus: “vb ptcpl; standing in the kitchen wondering what you came in here for”.

    Nowadays I’d suggest it as a synonym for virtue signaling.

    Woking has gained more fame recently as the location of a by-Royal-appointment Pizza Express.

  6. anat says

    lanir, human memory is very different from the memory of digital computers. One interesting thing is that the action of retrieving a memory modifies it. As a result, if you have 2 people agreeing at timepoint 1 on a version of events, and then they go their separate ways and are asked about the story a few times they end up remembering very different versions.

  7. says

    I’ve been dealing with short and long term TBI-related memory issues for almost a decade. I require constant repetition where I used to pick up and understand things immediately. Doing puzzles, reading and activities like computer programming do a lot to keep the brain working.

  8. Matt G says

    An older husband and wife are watching TV and the man gets up to go to the kitchen for ice cream. His wife says “honey, can you put chocolate syrup and nuts on mine?”. He says “sure”. She says “you won’t forget will you? Maybe you should write it down”. “I won’t forget”, he replies. “Oh and honey, could I also have whipped cream and a cherry? Please write it down”, she says. “I won’t forget”, he says. Ten minutes go by, then 15. After 20 minutes he returns with scrambled eggs and toast. The wife says “See, honey? I knew you’d forget the butter and jam”.

  9. khms says

    Like mnb0, I’ve had problems with names as far back as I can remember. It’s hard to say if it has gotten worse or not. Short term memory failure feels to come more often, but that has come and gone before, often related to problems with not sleeping enough.

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