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Sure Signs Your Brain Isn't as Strong as it Should Be

Here’s what’s normal, and what is definitely not.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Is it normal brain aging, or dementia? While our brains do shrink as we get older, it's important to know what's typical and what could be a sign of something more serious. "Basically, mild cognitive impairment is when someone has clear symptoms showing changes in their memory or their thinking, but the changes don't affect their ability to do their day-to-day activities," says neurologist Carolyn Fredericks, MD. "That is what distinguishes it from dementia." Here are five sure signs your brain isn't as strong as it should be, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Constant Struggles With Memory and Cognition

Close up of mature woman look in distance thinking.

Frequent memory issues could be a sign of cognitive impairment. "It's common for any of us to end up in our kitchen with no idea why we are there or to run into someone in the grocery store and forget their name," Dr. Fredericks says. "But when it starts to happen repetitively and on a day-to-day basis, that's when you start to worry about it."


Hearing Loss

Side view of senior man with symptom of hearing loss. Mature man sitting on couch with fingers near ear suffering pain.

Studies show that even mild hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. "Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain," says Frank Lin, MD, PhD. "Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia."


Type 2 Diabetes

Senior woman checking her blood glucose level.

There is strong evidence that type 2 diabetes can lead to accelerated brain aging. "Our findings suggest that type 2 diabetes and its progression may be associated with accelerated brain aging, potentially due to compromised energy availability causing significant changes to brain structure and function," says Lilianne Mujica-Parodi, PhD, Director of the Laboratory for Computational Neurodiagnostics, Stony Brook University. "By the time diabetes is formally diagnosed, this damage may already have occurred. But brain imaging could provide a clinically valuable metric for identifying and monitoring these neurocognitive effects associated with diabetes. Our results underscore the need for research into brain-based biomarkers for type 2 diabetes and treatment strategies that specifically target its neurocognitive effects."


Alcohol Abuse

drinking alcohol

Alcohol abuse can lead to a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder also known as "wet brain". "Thiamine (vitamin B1) is an essential nutrient utilized by all parts of the body which can only be obtained through diet," says Leah Miller, MHC. "Thiamine deficiency can cause damage to the brain, nerves, and heart. In the United States, alcohol abuse is the leading cause of thiamine deficiency, and consequently the development of WKS."


COVID-19 and the Brain

Portrait of doctor with face mask and clipboard looking at camera in hospital.

Research shows COVID-19 can cause brain fog similar to what doctors refer to as "chemo brain". "We found that even mild COVID can cause prominent inflammation in the brain that dysregulates brain cells and would be expected to contribute to cognitive impairment," says Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. "The exciting message is that because the pathophysiology is so similar, the last couple of decades in cancer therapy-related research can guide us to treatments that may help COVID brain fog." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan