Home » Library » Understanding Memory Loss

Understanding Memory Loss

After reading this article, you will understand the difference between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems; the medical causes of memory problems and how they can be treated; and how to cope with serious memory problems.

We’ve all forgotten a name, where we put our keys, or if we locked the front door. It’s normal to forget things once in a while. However, forgetting how to make change, use the telephone, or find your way home may be signs of a more serious memory problem.

Differences between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems.

Jeanne’s story
Jeanne couldn’t find her car keys. She looked on the hook just inside the front door. They weren’t there. She searched in her purse. No luck. Finally, she found them on her desk. Yesterday, she forgot her neighbor’s name. Her memory was playing tricks on her. She was starting to worry about it. She decided to see her doctor.

After a complete check-up, her doctor said that Jeanne was fine. Her forgetfulness was just a normal part of getting older. The doctor suggested that Jeanne take a class, play cards with friends, or help out at the local school to sharpen her memory.

What is mild forgetfulness?

It is true that some of us get more forgetful as we age. It may take longer to learn new things, remember familiar names and words, or find our glasses. These are usually signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems. If you’re worried about your forgetfulness, see your doctor. You also can do many things to help keep your memory sharp. Finding a hobby, spending time with friends, eating well, and exercising may help you stay alert and clear-headed.

Here are some ways to help your memory:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Volunteer in your community, school, or place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family whenever possible.
  • Use memory tools such as big calendars, to-do lists,
    and notes to yourself.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, and glasses in the
    same place each day.
  • Get lots of rest.
  • Exercise and eat well.
  • Don’t drink a lot of alcohol.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for weeks at a time.

What is a serious memory problem?

Serious memory problems affect your ability to carry out everyday life activities such as driving a car, shopping, or handling money. Signs of serious memory problems may

  • Asking the same questions over and over again.
  • Becoming lost in places you know well.
  • Not being able to follow directions.
  • Getting very confused about time, people, and places.
  • Not taking care of yourself — eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe.

If you are having any of the problems listed above, see your doctor. It’s important to find out what might be causing a serious memory problem. Your treatment depends on the cause of the problem.

Understanding Memory Loss

National Institute on Aging

APA Reference
on Aging, N. (2020). Understanding Memory Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.