Alzheimer's / Dementia

10/21/2022 | By Howard LeWine, M.D.

While some memory lapses are normal, others are signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. If you notice frequent memory lapses, talk to your doctor. He or she can determine whether these symptoms are related to aging or something else.


When should a person start worrying about becoming more forgetful? How can you tell if it’s normal memory loss, or something more serious?


For many of us, memory blips become more common as we get older. Our brains are forming fewer connections now, so our memory is not as strong as it used to be. It may take us longer to remember basic information, such as names, dates, or where we left our car keys. As we get older, the processing speed of our brain slows down, so we can’t recall information as quickly as we used to.

Memory lapses are unsettling, but they don’t necessarily herald impending dementia. The key is in how often these slips occur. You really need to figure out the pattern. Is it happening several times a week or is it happening once or twice a month? Is it a change compared to five or 10 years ago? Is it getting gradually worse?

Related: How Do I Know If They’re Early Signs of Dementia?

Forgetfulness can be a normal part of growing older. Memory lapses can also stem from several other conditions, including lack of sleep, stress, medications, alcohol or depression.

Any of these conditions can be treated. For example, you can adjust your sleep schedule, try deep breathing or other techniques to reduce stress, change the dose or type of medications you take, cut down on your drinking, or get treated for depression.

Don’t be alarmed by everyday forgetfulness. The time to call your doctor is when you have more persistent or worsening memory loss that’s interfering with your daily activities and routine and starting to affect your daily functioning.

3 ways to decrease memory lapses as you age:

diet and exercise to improve memory lapses

1. Exercise.

Exercise promotes the release of a powerful molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which repairs brain cells, strengthens their connections, promotes new brain cell growth, and enlarges the size of your hippocampus (a part of the brain involved in the storage and retrieval of memories). Exercise also increases blood flow to your brain and may protect the brain’s system for flushing out toxins.

2. Eat a healthy diet.

To protect yourself, generally avoid processed and sugary foods and animal fats (other than from fish): they’re associated with poor cardiovascular health. Opt instead for a Mediterranean-style diet, which is tied to lower risks for cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish, as well as moderate amounts of poultry and dairy.

3. Get more sleep.

We should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night to help the body rest and the brain conduct important duties. During sleep, the brain’s glymphatic system flushes out waste produced by the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease-related toxins (such as the protein amyloid-beta).

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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit