Why Does Memory Get Worse With Age?

The brain changes over time—for better and for worse

Do you feel more forgetful than you used to? Forgetfulness and other memory changes are common over the years, although they’re not always a call for concern. There are many potential explanations for a worsening memory, and understanding what happens to the brain as you grow older can help you figure out what to do to stay mentally fit.

Not All Memory Change Is Bad

Some memory decline is expected. Not grasping a new concept at 60 as quickly as you did at 20 shouldn’t be overly concerning. As our brains age, blood flow to the brain decreases, we lose neural mass, the protective coating around nerves wears down, and other changes happen, too. (1)

But this isn’t the complete story. While certain memory functions decline slowly—including learning something new, remembering where we put something, or trying to multitask—others remain the same or even improve.

Semantic memory, which you can think of as your general knowledge and ability to understand concepts, continues to improve with time. (2) That’s why even though you may be more forgetful than you once were, you may also feel like you understand more about the world than your children or grandchildren.

Sleep Issues, Poor Hearing, and More Can Cause Memory Problems

Memory troubles are often a consequence of another medical condition or life circumstance. For instance, older adults don’t tend to sleep as well as when they were younger. And if you’ve ever had a night when you didn’t get more than a few hours of sleep, you’re well aware of how important a good night’s rest is for your ability to recall memories and learn new things.

RELATED: Memory & Sleep: How Does Sleep Affect Memory?

And it’s not only poor sleep that can lead to memory issues. Social interactions, reading, and other activities are like exercise for our mind. Without them, the brain can start to slow down and not work as well as it once did.

When researchers examined social relations and memory change, they found less memory decline over the years with more time spent with friends. (3) And difficulties like hearing loss can lead to people avoiding phone calls or outings with loved ones, creating memory difficulties.

The lesson? Many changes happen to us that directly impact our learning and memory. So if you’re struggling to focus or remember things, take a look at your health and wellness as a whole to see if you can find anything that might be to blame.

Neurological Disease Risk Increases With Age

One big fear shared by most adults is severe memory problems caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. And while these diseases can happen at any age, they’re more common the older we get.

The good news? According to recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia isn’t inevitable. (4) Many people live to over 100 without dementia or other neurological conditions, and how you live may influence your chances of leading a long life with a healthy brain.

To support brain health as you age, the scientists suggest:

  • Supporting general health through eating well and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Increasing cognitive reserve by continuing to learn things, read, play games, and stay social
  • Maintaining vascular health via exercise and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods

How to Keep Your Memory Strong

While there’s no way to avoid brain changes completely, there are many ways to improve memory so you can continue enjoying your daily life.

Some of the best things you can do to retain brain function include staying active, spending time with loved ones, learning something new, and getting enough sleep. To help on the sleep front, you may want to consider brain health supplements like Better Memory PM.* This all-natural herbal remedy supports both deep sleep and brain health, preserving memory both in the short term and long term.*

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