Memory loss can be a symptom of brain dysfunction. It is one of the most common reasons that people, particularly older people, visit a doctor. Sometimes family members notice and report the memory loss.
The biggest concern for the person, family members, and doctors is usually whether the memory loss is the first sign of Alzheimer disease, a progressive and incurable form of dementia (a type of brain disorder). People with dementia have lost the ability to think clearly. Usually, if people are aware enough of their memory loss to be concerned about it, they do not have early dementia.
Memories may be stored in short-term or long-term memory, depending on what they are and how important they are to the person.
Short-term memory holds a small amount of information that a person needs temporarily, such as a list of things to buy at the grocery store.
Long-term memory, as the name suggests, stores memories (such as the name of the person's high school) for a long time.
Short-term memory and long-term memory are stored in a different parts of the brain. Long-term memory is stored in many areas of the brain. One part of the brain (the hippocampus) helps sort new information and associate it with similar information already stored in the brain. This process turns short-term memories into long-term memories. The more often short-term memories are recalled or rehearsed, the more likely they are to become long-term memories.