Our brains have a way of messing with our minds. One minute you’re recalling the color of the dress you wore to your ninth grade homecoming dance. The next minute, you space on the name of your dog.

Call them what you may (senior moments?!), the truth is we all experience neurological hiccups as we age. And we all wonder what they mean. You may write them off as stress, or some kind of neurological overload, or, more drastically, worry that you’re well on your way to developing Alzheimer’s.

QUIZ: How Stressed Are You?

Is Memory Inherited?
Most people share a pretty large assumption about our gray matter. We believe our genes completely control our neurological destiny. This simply isn’t true. 

Many diseases have genetic elements, and memory conditions have some of the strongest genetic indicators. A PET (positron-emission tomography) scan can reveal early evidence of Alzheimer’s, when it identifies that the brain is misusing energy. The illness of the mitochondria causes this abnormality, which is genetically determined.

But the truth is, you do have the ability to control those genes so your mind is strong, your brain functions at full power and you remember the crucial details of your life. Plus, we have data from twin studies showing that less than 50 percent of memory is inherited. If you get a head start on our action steps, you can alter how you express your genes. Genetics loads the gun, but your lifestyle can pull the trigger.

Memory and Your Brain
Clearly, the brain is the most complex organ of your body. In fact, if the brain were simpler, we wouldn’t be smart enough to understand it. But we are.

Think of your brain as the city’s electrical grid. Your brain’s nerve cells (neurons) are constantly firing and receiving messages (like power plants send signals and homes receive them). Power may originate from a main source, but the connections branch out every which way throughout the city.

Your brain functions the same way: Neurons send messages from one to the other, across your neurological grid. When the neurons successfully communicate to each other, through neurological impulses, your brain can file away memories.  But what happens when a storm or an accident knocks out the power lines? You lose connections, so you lose power—maybe to a particular neighborhood or a large segment of the city (depending on which ones got fried).

Same goes for your brain. If something knocks out one of those neural connections, then large or small parts of your brain can experience a blackout. Then you freak out because you can’t remember you left your car keys on the back of the toilet.

Certainly, many things cause malfunctions in your neurological grid. Some are acute and immediate (like a concussion arising from a brain bruise). Others are more chronic, as in genetic malfunctions that can cause your power lines to be so rickety that they easily fritz out. These are the ones we’re going to address here.