Is Forgetting a Mental Illness?

by Aseess Chadha 
October 8, 2022
Is Forgetting a Mental Illness?

Forgetfulness is a common occurrence in every household. We often mistake it for carelessness or a casual attitude, and it might just be that. However, forgetfulness can also be an early sign of mental disorders like Dementia, Alzheimer’s Dementia, or even Depression. So how can we distinguish between them? Here are a few tips:

Memory changes follow the normal aging process. It is not uncommon for you to forget where you left your keys, make a wrong decision or miss a monthly payment. However, if you forget your keys 5 days a week, make poor decisions over small & big things, or forget most of your bills, it is suggested that you visit a clinician. Forgetting what day it is and remembering it in a few seconds can be normal aging while losing track of time, forgetting the month or the year could be a glaring sign of Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is not necessary for memory loss to be related to an ongoing mental disorder. Memory loss can also be a consequence of underlying medical conditions like brain injury, infection in the brain, vitamin or mineral imbalance in the body, alcohol, or a side effect of another medicine. Under the influence of alcohol, memory loss and cognitive impairment are pretty common. Hence, it can also show up in alcoholics and drug addicts.

When forgetfulness appears as a sign of a mental disorder, it is mainly accompanied by a decline in cognitive function. For example, the person might not be able to deal with numbers and money efficiently; make inapt choices in simple things like dressing appropriately, along with changes in personality like increased aggression or social withdrawal.

One of the disorders most commonly associated with forgetfulness is Dementia. Dementia usually occurs in old age (65+ years) where there is a progressive decline of cognitive function with loss of memory being a characteristic feature. Decision-making may be impaired, along with an effect on intelligence as well as language. The person might forget what to speak, when to speak, or do seemingly simple tasks like tying a knot. Changes in personality like frequent anger outbursts or depressive mood and impairment in social skills like interacting with others and making conversation follow the course. Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that is rapidly rising in the population across the globe. Patients start showing a decline in memory and thinking ability. It may start with forgetting basic things like keys, devices, etc., and slowly the person tends to forget names, recognize faces, or even different rooms in their house. Often, patients fail to recognize their family members, including sons and daughters. This disease affects neurological and cognitive functions causing memory, problem-solving, and thinking dysfunctions.

2.7% of the Indian population is living with Dementia, and its prevalence increases with age. Around 20% of people above the age of 80 have this condition. And these are the reported estimates, while a large number of people showing the symptoms go undiagnosed. So, if forgetfulness is becoming a part of your routine activities, and you are noticing changes, it would be best to find out the cause! Consulting a clinician can help you clarify your doubts as well as get you an early diagnosis in case of an underlying problem. An early diagnosis is always helpful as it puts you on the right track for treatment to delay the cognitive decline as much as possible.

Dealing with forgetfulness can be challenging, however, to keep your minds cognitively healthy and active, it is best to keep them engaged in complex tasks like solving a puzzle, performing calculations, playing cards, or reading newspapers. Some more accessible ways to deal with forgetfulness are following daily routines, making to-do lists, using alarms as reminders, exercising, and eating nutritious food.

Sleep is often undermined but is an extremely essential ingredient for your cognitive function. It is suggested that you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night, preferably around a fixed bedtime. Healthy sleep gives your brain the time to collate and store memories effectively. Regular exercise is another crucial aspect that you must incorporate for your physical as well as mental fitness. It will increase blood flow in the brain and help you with life stressors.

Such basic additions and alterations to your daily life can positively impact your brain and body health, specifically in the case of these old-age problems. Try your best to slide them into your lives as soon as possible. Keeping yourself physically, cognitively, and socially active will boost your brain function and mental health, which can be vital in preventing mental disorders. Nevertheless, if symptoms show up, a clinician would be able to help the best!

Aseess Chadha,
Clinical and Research Intern,