We all experience forgetfulness at some point or another. Whether you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or just plain exhausted, it’s normal to forget things that you wouldn’t normally. But what are the common causes of forgetfulness that we often ignore? In this article, we’ll explore 7 potential causes and how to overcome them.

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What is forgetfulness

Forgetfulness is defined as an inability to remember information that was previously learned. It can be a normal part of aging, or it may be caused by medical conditions, certain medications, or sleep deprivation, among others.
Age-related forgetfulness is sometimes called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). It’s not a disease, but it may be a sign that you’re at risk for developing dementia.
Dementia is a brain disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Forgetfulness in elderly man

How Does Forgetfulness Happen?

There’re a few ways how forgetting can occur, and this depends on whether the stored information was in short-term or long-term memory.

Short-term Memory

There are three main theories concerning forgetfulness in short-term memory: displacement, decay, and interference.


Displacement occurs when new memories push old memories out of short-term memory. This can happen for a number of reasons, including the forgetting curve: The forgetting curve is the natural process of forgetting information over time. This occurs because our brains are constantly bombarded with new information and can only store so much at once. As new information comes in, old information is pushed out.


Interference theory posits that forgetting occurs when there is competition between similar pieces of information for storage space in memory. This can happen when two items are learned close together in time (e.g., learning a phone number right after learning an address) or when one item is similar to another item already stored in memory (e.g., trying to remember a new person’s name after meeting someone with the same name).

Interference can be divided into two types: proactive interference and retroactive interference.

Proactive interference happens when old information interferes with the recall of new information. This can happen when you are trying to learn a new skill and keep forgetting how to do it because you keep reverting back to your old way of doing things.

Retroactive interference happens when new information interferes with the recall of old information. This can happen when you learn a new fact that contradicts something you already know, and then have trouble remembering which one is correct.


Decay is when the information in your memory starts to fade over time. This theory suggests that the information in your short-term memory only lasts for a certain amount of time before it starts to disappear.

One piece of evidence for the decay theory is the fact that people tend to forget information more quickly if they don’t rehearse it. Rehearsal is when you repeat the information to yourself, either out loud or in your head. If you don’t rehearse the information, it’s more likely to decay and be forgotten.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory is generally seen as being limitless in terms of both capacity and length of time. However, forgetting can still occur in long-term memory

One way is through decay – just like we can forget information stored in short-term memory, information in long-term memory can also be forgotten over time if it isn’t accessed or used.

Another way that we can forget information from long-term memory is through interference from other memories. This happens when new information comes in and disrupts the old information, making it more difficult to access.

Causes of Forgetfulness

1. Stress

Stress is a common cause of forgetfulness. When you’re under stress, your body releases cortisol, which can interfere with your ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Stress can also lead to sleep problems, which can further impair your memory.

If you’re experiencing stress-related forgetfulness, there are a few things you can do to help improve your memory:

  1. Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. If possible, remove yourself from stressful situations or take steps to manage your stress more effectively.
  2. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can severely impact your memory function.
  3. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

All of these things help keep your brain healthy and improve blood flow to the brain, aiding memory function.

2. Lack of sleep

When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have time to process and store information properly. This can lead to problems with memory and concentration.

3. Depression

Depression can cause forgetfulness because it can lead to problems with focus and concentration. Additionally, depressed individuals may have difficulty retaining information due to low motivation or energy levels. If you think that depression may be causing your forgetfulness, it is important to talk to a mental health professional.

4. Anxiety

Anxiety is a common cause of forgetfulness. When you’re anxious, your mind is racing, and you’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong. This can make it hard to focus on anything else, including what you need to do or remember. 

5. Dehydration

One of the most common causes of forgetfulness is dehydration. When you don’t have enough fluids in your body, it can lead to problems with focus, concentration, and memory. Even mild dehydration can cause these issues.

Dehydration can be caused by various things, including not drinking enough water, sweating excessively, or vomiting. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to drink more fluids and see a doctor if the problem persists.

In addition to causing forgetfulness, dehydration can lead to other health problems, such as headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. So if you’re feeling forgetful, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated!

6. Underactive thyroid

The thyroid is a gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough of these hormones, it can lead to a number of problems, including memory loss and forgetfulness.

An underactive thyroid can be caused by a number of things, including autoimmune disease, certain medications, and surgery. If you think you may have an underactive thyroid, it’s important to see your doctor so they can run some tests. Treating an underactive thyroid can help improve your memory and overall cognitive function.

7. Medication

Medication can cause forgetfulness by interacting with the brain in a way that disrupts its normal functioning. For example, some medications can cause drowsiness or confusion, which can lead to forgetfulness. 

Other medications may interact with the brain, making it difficult to form new memories or recall old ones. If you think your medication may be causing forgetfulness, talk to your doctor about changing your dose or switching to a different medication.

8. Alcohol

When you drink alcohol, it affects the chemicals in your brain that control memory. This can lead to problems with short-term memory, such as forgetting where you put your keys. Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to long-term memory problems.

If you’re worried about forgetfulness caused by drinking, try cutting back on alcohol or stopping altogether. Besides, alcohol can cause other health issues, including liver damage.

9. Dementia

While there are many possible causes of forgetfulness, dementia is one of the most serious. 

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability that often comes with age.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. 

Dementia can lead to problems with memory, thinking, language, and judgment. 

People with dementia may have trouble remembering familiar people or things, or they may lose the ability to speak or write. 

They may also have trouble with simple tasks such as bathing or dressing. As the disease progresses, they may become confused and agitated. People with dementia may also experience changes in mood and behavior, such as depression, anxiety, or aggression.

How to Prevent Forgetfulness

There are many things you can do to prevent forgetfulness. Below are some tips:

Maintain a regular routine

Try to keep a routine and stick to it as much as possible. This will help your brain get used to certain tasks being performed at certain times and will make it easier for you to remember what needs to be done.

Get enough sleep

It’s not a secret that getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining good health. But did you know that sleeping also plays a vital role in memory and cognitive function?

While you sleep, your brain is busy processing and consolidating information from the day. This means that getting enough shut-eye is crucial for ensuring that your memories are stored properly.

So how much sleep do you need to keep your mind sharp? Most experts recommend aiming for 7-8 hours per night. If you find yourself struggling to get enough rest, there are a few things you can do to improve your sleep quality.

First, create a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it as much as possible. This might include taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating for a few minutes before turning out the lights.

Second, ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool – all of which can help promote better sleep. And finally, avoid screen time (including TV, laptops, and phones) for at least an hour or two before bedtime.

Eat healthy

When it comes to preventing forgetfulness, one of the best things you can do is eat a healthy diet. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks.

Some specific nutrients are especially important for brain health, including omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants. You can find all of these in abundance in a healthy diet. For example, avocados are rich in omega-3s, leafy greens contain B vitamins, and berries are full of antioxidants.

Exercise regularly

There are many benefits to exercising regularly, including improved brain function. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps to keep the brain healthy and prevent cognitive decline. 

Additionally, exercise has been shown to improve memory and reduce the risk of dementia.

The best way to prevent forgetfulness is to make sure that you are getting enough exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per day. This can be anything from walking to swimming to biking. 

If you can’t do 30 minutes all at once, break it up into smaller chunks throughout the day.

Stay socially active

There are many benefits to staying socially active, including reducing stress, improving brain function, and preventing forgetfulness. 

To stay socially active, try joining a club or group, taking a class, volunteering, or attending social events. 

You can also stay connected with friends and family by phone, email, social media, or in person. 

No matter which method you choose, staying socially active will help you stay sharp and prevent forgetfulness.

Challenge your mind

Mental stimulation through activities like puzzles is a great way to keep your mind sharp, and there are all sorts of puzzles you can do, from jigsaw puzzles to Sudoku to crosswords. Pick a puzzle that interests you and make it a part of your daily routine.

Learning new things is another great way to keep your mind sharp. Take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or read about something you’re interested in but don’t know much about. Keeping your mind active and engaged will help stave off forgetfulness.

Finally, take on new challenges. Set yourself some goals and work towards them. Whether it’s learning to play a musical instrument or finally getting around to writing that novel you’ve always wanted to write, challenging yourself will keep your mind sharp and help prevent forgetfulness. 

Track your daily activities

If you want to prevent forgetfulness, it is important to keep track of your daily activities. This can be done by keeping a journal or calendar of your daily tasks and appointments. You can also set reminders for yourself on your computer or smartphone.

Forgetfulness and Dementia

There are a few key differences between forgetfulness and dementia. Dementia is a serious, progressive brain disorder that impairs a person’s ability to think, remember, and communicate. It can also affect their ability to perform everyday activities.

On the other hand, forgetfulness is generally not as serious or progressive. It’s often normal as we age and our brains become less efficient. We may have more trouble recalling names or recent events, but we can still function relatively well overall.

Dementia can cause personality changes and make it difficult to carry on a conversation. People with dementia may also experience delusions or hallucinations. They may wander off and get lost, or become aggressive or agitated.

In contrast, people who are forgetful generally don’t experience these kinds of changes in behavior or thought patterns. If you’re forgetful, you might misplace your keys or glasses more often, but you shouldn’t have trouble recognizing people or places.

If you’re concerned about your memory or think you might be showing signs of dementia, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.

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Final Thoughts

Forgetfulness is a common problem that can affect anyone, regardless of age. While there are many causes of forgetfulness, they all boil down to three main categories: physical health issues, mental stressors, and lifestyle habits.

Fortunately, most cases of forgetfulness can be addressed with lifestyle changes such as getting adequate sleep and exercise or tracking your daily activities. If you find yourself frequently forgetting things for no reason at all though, it may be time to see your doctor for advice on how best to address the issue.

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