THE BLOG
02/06/2013 11:32 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

Is My Memory Loss Normal? The Difference Between Forgetfulness and Early Onset Dementia

I rushed the kids through breakfast, promising myself (as I do every day) that we'll all get up 30 minutes earlier tomorrow and avoid the morning chaos. Faces, teeth, hair, socks, shoes, jackets... the never-ending school day assembly line was in full swing. But as we stepped outside ready to take our usual walk, my son complained that his leg hurt; his pants were rubbing up against a scrape he had on his thigh.

"Fine, get in the car," I instructed the kids. I ran back inside the house to grab my keys and they piled in and buckled up, ready for the short drive around the corner to our neighborhood elementary school.

Just as I pulled up, the other minivans parted like the red sea and I squeezed my Hotyssey into a space directly across from the school -- one that sat equal distance from both crosswalks. I paused a beat before yelling, "Hold on to me" and darted across the quiet street. I dropped one kid off at his gate and sent him away with a kiss and an encouraging word. I walked the other two to the other side of the school and sent them on their way with the same ritual.

As I exhaled the breath I had been holding in for the past 20 minutes, I ran into another mom at the school, a friend I often chat with after drop off, cramming an hour's worth of conversation into our ten-minute walk. "Are you headed home?" she asked. I said yes and we began yapping as we walked in the direction of our respective houses.

Already dressed and ready for the office (minus the makeup, which I often put on while sitting bumper to bumper in LA's infamous traffic), I freshened up my coffee, changed out of my walking shoes and into a boot with a heel, grabbed my purse, computer bag and an arm full of dry cleaning to be dropped off. But as I stepped outside...

HUH?

My car was gone. I stood stunned for a minute, knowing there had to be a reasonable explanation -- just one that had escaped my mind.

D'OH!

That's right, my car is at school! It had been out of character to drive the kids and not walk, so I completely forgot and walked home instead of back to the car.

UGH.

"OK, it's really no big deal," I reason with myself. "I'll just go get it." I open the door to the house, drop the dry cleaning and my computer bag on the floor and start down the street. I get my car, run a quick errand to the bank and come back to the house for my stuff.

"I could really use more coffee," I think. I pour myself another cup, grab my purse and finally head out to tackle the 90-minute commute to work. Like most mornings, I check in with my husband to see how things are going. I share my story of forgetfulness and realize then that I forgot to grab the dry cleaning on my way out. Oh well, I'll have to do that later, I think, opting for a 'glass half-full' approach.

I pull onto the lot at Culver Studios and make my way down to the parking garage. Level 1... level 2... level 3... they're all full. It's so packed that when I drive up to the parking attendant, he instructs me to park in the aisle, block two spots and leave my keys so they can move my car if necessary. I jump out, open the back sliding door of my bitchin' minivan and grab my comput....

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh nooooooooooo.

Crap! Where's my computer bag? Maybe I tossed it in the front this time, going against routine due to the craziness of the morning. I bend and stretch, looking over the back of the seat and at the empty passenger seat -- nope, no computer bag.

"You have got to me kidding me!!!" I could feel my blood starting to warm up, if not yet at the boiling point. I calmed myself with the reminder that at least I had returned a few emails and posted some content before the kids even got out of bed, at least the morning wasn't a total waste.

But I couldn't help but wonder, What is wrong with me? Am I losing my mind? Or maybe my attempt to do five things at once is just backfiring. I don't know the answer, but one thing I do know, it scares the hell out of me. Since my own father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's just a few months ago, I'm terrified that I'm a branch off his moody, forgetful genetic tree.

Is it just me? The good news (and bad news, depending on who you ask) is that it's pretty common. At least that's what my Facebook friends tell me.

Jami: "I'm 28 and can't remember anything! It is so frightening sometimes. Sends me into panic attacks because I'm wondering if I have forgotten something important for my kids or work even."

George: "I went to the store for laundry detergent, that's all. I came home with a baguette, hummus and tomatoes. No laundry detergent. This kind of thing happens to me now on a regular basis."

Julie: "For sure it has become a problem for me. They changed the school schedule and the kids get out early on Wednesday. I have to set a weekly alarm to remind me because I've forgotten to pick up my kids, not once but twice."

Tracy: "I misplace my phone at least once a day. Literally, within a minute of laying it down I've forgotten where it is!"

Factors that Contribute to "Normal" Memory Loss

• Age According to FamilyDoctor.org, we actually begin to lose brain cells as young as our 20's, the same time our bodies begin to make less of the chemicals the remaining brain cells need to work, affecting our memory as we age.

• Hormones As if that's not bad enough, a study done by McGill University found that decreasing estrogen levels also do a number on our working memory, which can explain why many women complain of "mommy" or "menopause" brain.

• Sleep
Without adequate sleep, your brain has a harder time absorbing and recalling new information, according to WebMD. But sleep does more than help sharpen the mind. Studies show that sleep (or lack therof) affects physical reflexes, fine motor skills and judgment, too. One study showed that participants who were sleep-deprived were more likely to think they were right when they were actually wrong. (Not that any of us would do that.)

• Stress The need to get it all done and perfectly is enough to send anyone over the edge. Think you're a great multitasker? According to a new Huffington Post article, a recent study says you're wrong. (Maybe you just think you're right because you're sleep deprived.) In fact, the study found that the better a person thinks they are at multitasking, the worse they actually are. "The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking," said study researcher and psychology professor David Strayer.

But what if overextending ourselves isn't really the issue. How do we know the difference between a common occurrence and something more serious like dementia?

Could I Have Early-Onset Alzheimer's?

According to FamilyDoctor.org, memory loss can become a more serious problem as it affects your daily living. If you find that any of the following apply to you, it's best to consult your doctor.

• No longer remember how to do things you've done many times before (losing your way to work even though you've taken the same route over and over, not being able to follow directions in a recipe...)

• Changes in mood and personality

• Memory loss tends to increase over time (from several months to years)

What are some things we can do to thwart memory loss and keep our minds sharp? Some foods and food-based multivitamins are said to be helpful in boosting memory and sharpness.

Allspice (promotes memory)

Avocado (remembering details)

Flax (assimilation of information and memory improvement)

Papaya (memory retention)

Rosemary (forgetfulness)

There are also other lifestyle tweaks that can go a long way in keeping your mind sharp.

Find a system For some, writing things down is enough to keep them on track. For me, I've channeled my inner-nerd, creating spreadsheets for everything from homework, paying bills, grocery lists and work assignments (Now, if I could only remember to open them...).

Use it or lose it Like muscles, your brain needs to be exercised in order to stay sharp. Consider skipping an hour of those mindless online games and use the same time to learn a new skill, start a hobby, read a book or even challenge the kids to a game of Scrabble.

Get healthy It's not exactly breaking news that healthy diet, regular exercise and clean living is said to keep you on your game. While you're at it, decrease or cut out the mind-zapping alcohol.

Maintain a sense of humor While memory loss can be extremely difficult, don't sweat the small stuff. Remember, we're all getting older, don't take it so seriously.

Have you found yourself getting forgetful at times? Share your story (and make the rest of us feel that we're not alone)!

Related: Bad Mood? Find out why it could be the food you eat.