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What is a Memory Lapse & Why are They Always Interrupting Me?

attention and memory memory loss Nov 22, 2022
woman with memory lapse into thought

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you were in there or what you were looking for? Or been mid-sentence when the word gets stuck on the tip of your tongue, and you lose your train of thought? It can drive you crazy when you just can't think of it.

These frustrating moments are called memory lapses. In this article we’ll answer:

  • What is a memory lapse?
  • Causes of memory lapses
  • What to do when you suspect a memory problem 

What is a Memory Lapse?

memory lapse is that moment when you go completely blank on something you should or would typically remember. 

You may call it a brain freeze, a mind blip, a brain fart, or if you're getting older "a senior moment."

By any name though, these memory glitches can leave you wondering why you can't remember and make you question if perhaps it’s something to be concerned about.

Before you get worried, read on to learn possible explanations for your memory lapses and signs of something more.

Memory Lapse Examples

There are many different variations of a memory lapse. Typically, they are fleeting moments where you just go blank. They can occur mid-thought or mid-sentence and tend to arise more in high-pressure scenarios, such as giving a speech to a group of people, answering a question on the spot, or in uncomfortable situations. Though, they can also occur when you're alone at home. 

Common examples of memory lapses:

  • Words get stuck on the tip of your tongue mid-conversation.
  • Forgetting someone's name when you run into them at the store.
  • Unable to recall details from a specific event, like the name of the hotel you stayed at last month on vacation.
  • Walking into your bedroom and forgetting what you were looking for in there.
  • Placing your glasses down only to declare that you cannot find them 2 minutes later.

Many of these lapse into thought moments can be attributed to a lack of attention and are not worrisome - which we discuss later in this article.

However, if you're experiencing frequent memory lapses that interrupt your daily life, communication interactions, or peace of mind, it can be a sign of something more serious. Before we explore signs of concern, let's chat about some more common and less concerning causes of memory lapses.

Causes of Frequent Memory Lapses

There are many possible explanations for experiencing memory lapses, some of which can be age-related while others are simply due to brain overload. 

And while your mind may immediately wander to the worst-case scenario when you can't remember, memory lapses are not always a sign of a broken brain or Alzheimer's disease. 

Let’s explore 6 possible causes of memory lapses:

1. You’re not getting enough sleep.

Sleep is essential to supporting clear thinking and strong recall.

If you’re logging less than 7-9 hours per night, it can make it harder to recall details or retrieve information that would otherwise be easily remembered.

According to the Sleep Foundation, difficulty remembering things is a common consequence of sleep deprivation.

Furthermore, “Since the brain does not have sufficient time to create new pathways for the information you’ve recently learned, sleep deprivation often affects how memories are consolidated.”

Memory consolidation is the process of storing information in our brains for later use. But less memory consolidation from inadequate sleep equals less storage and access to the information later. Even if it’s something you feel like you should remember.

It’s also quite difficult to stay focused when you’re not well-rested. And if you can’t focus, you’re more likely to have lapses pop up throughout your day, especially midsentence.

2. You're distracted. 

Speaking of focus, your brain can’t remember information that it never fully received in the first place.

Your attention is an essential step to creating, storing, and accessing memories from your brain. But now more than ever, it can be hard to keep up with how much information is being presented to you every single moment of the day. And all that overwhelm can lead to major distraction or lack of focus that sneaks up on you.

Think about what happens to your computer when you have too many tabs open. You're distracted, switching back and forth between tabs until eventually you overwhelm the system, and it freezes altogether. 

This is much like what happens to your brain. The more overwhelmed it is, the more you may freeze up. This can be especially frustrating when you’re at work, attempting to communicate your thoughts to your spouse, or are expected to lead a meeting or event.

3. You're stressed out.

Your stressed-out brain doesn’t function as well as your cool, calm, and collected brain. And chronic stress can lead you down a path to long-term memory loss. 

That’s because stress increases inflammation in your body and brain which can result in cloudy thinking, lack of focus, and mental fatigue, among other things. All these feelings from stress can snowball into a much bigger problem, increasing your risk for more serious health or memory concerns down the road.

4. Your brain is getting older.

To be clear, getting older is not synonymous with memory loss or cognitive change.

And as a memory health coach, I’m constantly preaching that memory loss is not a normal part of aging. However, subtle, minor changes in processing information can occur with age and may lead to more frequent memory lapse moments.

Hence the saying “senior moments.”

If you’re wondering what’s “normal” with aging and when you should be concerned, read this article: Normal Aging or Memory Loss? Learn the First Signs to Look For.

The most common memory lapse complaint I hear in my practice from my clients 55+ are tip-of-tongue experiences when word retrieval fails, and you just can’t think of the word. And while it can be so frustrating, it is common to experience this more as you get older.

5. You're not moving your body.

Movement is the key to waking up your brain. If you’re sitting still for too long or relatively under stimulated, it’s not unlikely that your ability to recall information and communicate it effectively will be affected.

Adding exercise into your day can help you fuel clear thinking and focus. Especially if you’re experiencing frustrating memory lapses. Try incorporating a short walk a few times a day.

Focus on activities that recharge you and leave you more energized than when you started.

6. You're living on autopilot.

If you can complete most of your daily activities without thinking, without paying attention, or with your eyes closed, it can lead to more memory problems.

Why?

You’re running on autopilot. This mode will result in less cognitive stimulation and engagement, and it can lead to more memory problems down the road.

Think of the last time you drove home from work or the grocery store and had that momentary thought “how did I get here?”

It’s because you are so conditioned to do certain routine tasks without stopping to smell the flowers. And over time, that can take a toll on your brain.

How to exit autopilot mode

Novelty or new learning can snap you out of autopilot and wake up your brain to the world around you again. That change can make a big difference in your ability to think clearly and remember effortlessly.

Try switching up routines, completing them backward, or driving new routes to work. Throw in a new recipe to your weekly rotation or take a walk at a time of day you’re usually stuck sitting. Your brain will benefit from breaking out of the lackluster daily routines.

Get Your Memory Back Starter Guide

If memory lapses keep interrupting your thoughts and ideas, then this is for you.

Grab your free copy of the Get Your Memory Back Starter Guide here. You’ll get my 4-step formula to guide you from forgetful to focused so you can be present in your life without second-guessing yourself, even if you've struggled with it for years!

Should I be Concerned about my Memory Lapses?

Occasional memory lapses that are unaccompanied by any other significant challenges are quite normal and they can occur at any age, even without chronic stress or poor sleeping habits. We are all human, after all. 

But memory lapses and other signs of forgetfulness that arise daily and impact your ability to think clearly, communicate effectively or complete your typical activities can be a sign of something more, like mild cognitive impairment.

If memory lapses include

  • asking the same questions repeatedly
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • having trouble communicating thoughts and ideas 
  • difficulty following directions
  • confusion 
  • more difficulty or inability to complete previously independent daily tasks

then it's time to speak with your doctor and begin addressing your concerns. 

Occasional Lapse into Thought or Memory Problem?

If you’re experiencing memory lapses daily or multiple times per day, it’s time to get specific on your concerns.

A great place to start is to become more aware of the problem.

  • How often is it happening?
  • Do you tend to forget certain things but remember others?
  • Is it interrupting you from your daily activities?

I go more in-depth on cultivating awareness in the Get Your Memory Back Starter Guide and email training listed above. You can download the guide for free.

It’s essential to get clear on the problem and document your concerns. You may notice patterns in what you’re forgetting or times of day you’re mentally fatigued. You can use these patterns to make lifestyle changes to support stronger recall and clear thinking.

If the problem persists, or you’re concerned about something more serious like Alzheimer's and dementia, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. Your doctor may be able to uncover information about potential causes, like medications, that may be contributing to the problem. They can also refer you to specialists for additional testing if needed.

Recap: What Is a Memory Lapse? 

Memory glitches happen to everyone. And though it can be frustrating, they aren’t always concerning.

Occasional memory lapses can be met with curiosity and humor. Frequent or daily memory lapses should be met with more awareness and exploration.

If you’re a woman 40+ who is struggling with your memory and you need more support, I’d love to support you. Use this link to schedule a free call to share your concerns and learn more about how I can help today.

Questions?

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Meet the Coach

Hey there! I'm Francine, a speech-language pathologist turned memory health coach with a passion for helping you overcome your memory problems.

In my practice, I help women trade memory problems for confidence and clarity everyday so they can think clearly and remember easily, without constant self-doubt weighing them down. 

If you're struggling with poor recall and foggy thinking, you're in the right place and I want to help you!

 

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