Everyone has memory lapses. We blank on our long-time neighbor’s name, or we forget the cake in the oven until the smoke detector goes off. But being forgetful in midlife is particularly common: Studies show that one-half to two-thirds of people 50 and older notice memory changes. There are as many reasons for this as there are steps to remedy it.
Memory has three stages: learning, consolidation, and recall. If you’re invited to a friend’s surprise 50th birthday party, for example, first you must learn the four Ws: where, when, what to wear, and whom to bring. Next, the party information needs to become stored in your memory, or consolidated. Finally, when the time comes, your brain must recall it. This sounds simple, but many factors influence whether you ever actually attend that party.
Learning: You’re more likely to learn the information in the first place if you pay close attention to it. But women are multitaskers, and as we listen we may also be loading the dishwasher and shooing the dog away from the cat’s food. As we get older, interruptions distract us more, which can interfere with this initial learning.
Consolidation: Next, your brain is more likely to store a memory if it relates to a long-term memory you already have, such as attending this same friend’s surprise 40th birthday party. In addition, research shows that sleeping well is important to memory consolidation, and for many women in midlife, sleep is elusive.
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