Is Your Forgetfulness Normal?

Functional Medicine Doctor By Tiffany Lester, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor
Tiffany Lester, M.D. is the National Clinical Director of Community at Parsley Health San Francisco, a groundbreaking new medical practice that focuses on nutrition, prevention, and wellness. She received her bachelor's in psychology and biology from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

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Recently the New York Times featured an article posing this question. To be fair, all of us at some point have forgotten where we left our keys or parked our car. And if you are like me, the thought crossed your mind, "Am I getting early dementia?"

What is dementia?

As our life span continues to lengthen thanks to the advances in medicine and technology, the fear of dementia is a valid concern. Dementia is not a specific disease. It's a combination of symptoms that vary widely and is associated with a decline in short- and long-term memory. According to the Alzheimer's Association, you must have significant impairment in at least two of these categories: memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, visual perception.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is often thought of as the precursor to dementia. MCI are cognitive changes that are noticeable to family and friends, but individuals are still able to perform daily activities. Both dementia and MCI are clinical diagnoses by doctors that don't show up on any blood test or brain scan.

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What is normal?

The NYT article seems to lean toward the fact that forgetfulness is normal. I disagree. What conventional medicine often defines as "normal" are actually the very early signs of an imbalance. Without being an alarmist or hypochondriac, if you are truly concerned about your brain health, don't ignore the potential warning signs your brain is giving you.

When should I be concerned?

Most people have brain fog, not dementia—which is a common symptom I see in patients at Parsley Health. They often describe it as "a thick cloud around my head." Brain fog could be a sign of underlying inflammation caused by leaky gut syndrome leading to a yeast or bacterial overgrowth, a chronic viral syndrome, or an imbalance in blood sugar from a diet of processed foods.

Getting to the root cause of your brain fog is the key to lasting brain health. Addressing the true reason behind why you can't remember your anniversary rather putting a Band-Aid on your symptoms is the medicine of the future. You can take preventive steps today to remember tomorrow.

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Create a new normal.

Getting rid of brain fog will make you more efficient at work, more present with your friends and family, and keep your brain sharp well into your golden years.

  1. Get brain insurance. Meditation for brain health is not a new idea. We have all heard the benefits of meditating, and it's easy to brush it aside just like the insurance for a rental car. Meditation is like insurance for your brain and completely free.
  2. Stop multitasking. We are all guilty of this in our fast-paced world. It may seem like you are successfully juggling five different tasks at once, but studies show you are actually taking longer to complete them. When you multitask your IQ actually decreases by an average of 15 points. Solution: Focus on completing one thing at a time. Your brain will thank you.
  3. Reset your gut. Try a seven-day detox that includes removing inflammatory brain foods like gluten, dairy, and processed foods. This is enough time to lift the fog from your brain. Don't be afraid of the word detox and temporarily removing your favorite foods from your diet. Our bodies are detoxing every day. This is just a revved-up version focusing on whole foods with balanced portions of lean protein, leafy greens, and healthy fats.

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