Are 'senior moments' normal?

They call them senior moments.   You forget your PIN #, your neighbor’s name, or where you left your car in the parking lot.  Memory lapses are typical as we hit out 50’s and beyond.  But they can also be a sign of dementia.  So, when should you be concerned?

Experts say our brains peak developmentally in our 20’s.  Then, like our bodies, they change, growing a little smaller, and a little slower with each decade.

But Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist most memory changes like those "senior moments" you're probably experiencing are totally normal.

Take, for example, changes in your “working” memory.

"So for example, if you need to go to the next room to get something out of your wallet, you may walk into that next room and then not know why you went in there,” Dr. Bergquist says. “So that working memory is that memory you need to stack one task after another, for example, (when you are) multitasking."

Same thing with those tip-of-the-tongue lapses, like when you forget your coworker's name. 

Or, if you think back on last year's vacation, you'll remember the gist of where you went and what you did, but maybe not the little things.

"You'll remember you had a good time,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “You won't remember the name of the hotel or what you ordered off the menu. Details get blurred, and that's fine. That is not alarming."

But, more profound memory loss could be a sign of something deeper.

"What's not normal, those red flags this could be a sign of dementia, is when those memory changes interfere with your ability to do your daily activities,” Dr Bergquist says.

Taking a wrong turn is common.  But, it’s not normal to get lost or disoriented on roads you know.

You may find yourself repeating questions or struggling with daily tasks that used to come easily to you.

"For example can you still balance your checkbook?” asks Bergquist. “Can you still cook and not worry about leaving the stove on? Can you read a book and not find that you're reading the same chapter a couple of times?"

And, being aware of a memory slip may be a good sign.

"A lot of people who are losing their memory lose the ability to tell they're losing their memory,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “And the people who love you are going to be the first to raise that as a concern, and maybe even take you to the doctor."

There are ways to protect your brain as you get older.

Start by controlling your risk factors for chronic diseases that can damage the brain, like heart disease and diabetes.

Getting regular physical activity and eating a plant-based healthy diet can also boost brain health.

And studies show finding new ways to challenge your brain, and staying socially connective, may protect your brain as you get older.