What is memory loss?
Memory loss is the inability to remember things as well as you used to.
Mild memory loss can be a normal part of aging. For example, you may forget where you put your car keys. Memory loss that is more serious may be a warning sign of a brain function problem, such as Alzheimer disease Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia that usually affects people older than 65. Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, understand language, and learn. Brain problems... read more or dementia Dementia Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, and learn. Most dementia begins little by little and starts after age 65. It’s normal for the brain to change with age, but... read more .
Your family members may notice your memory loss before you do
Signs of more serious memory loss include forgetting about things that just happened or having problems doing activities you've done many times before
Using lists, calendars, and memory aids can help you cope with memory loss
When should I see a doctor for memory loss?
See your doctor if you have memory loss and any of these warning signs:
Trouble doing daily activities such as managing your money or medicines
Trouble paying attention or concentrating
Feeling depressed about your memory loss
See your doctor right away if you have memory loss and:
Cannot pay attention and seem very confused
Feel depressed and think about hurting yourself
Have symptoms of a nervous system problem such as headaches, trouble using or understanding language, low energy, vision problems, or dizziness
What causes memory loss?
The most common cause of memory loss is:
Getting older—minor changes in memory can be normal as you age
Other common causes:
Mild thinking problems (mild cognitive impairment)—about half of the people who have this will get dementia a few years later
Dementia Dementia Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, and learn. Most dementia begins little by little and starts after age 65. It’s normal for the brain to change with age, but... read more (such as Alzheimer disease Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer disease is a type of dementia that usually affects people older than 65. Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, understand language, and learn. Brain problems... read more )
Depression Depression Depression is feeling too sad or sluggish to do your daily tasks or take part in activities you usually enjoy. It’s normal to feel sad after something sad happens, such as a death or loss—depression... read more —if you have depression, you probably also have other symptoms, such as intense sadness and problems sleeping
Overusing drugs or alcohol
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Doctors will do a physical exam and ask questions about your memory loss, such as:
What types of things you forget
When your memory problems started
Whether your memory seems to be getting worse
If it's getting harder to do your job or daily activities
If memory loss runs in your family
Doctors may want you to bring a family member or friend to your appointment who can describe symptoms you may not have noticed or may have trouble remembering.
Doctors may do tests such as:
Mental status testing—doctors will ask questions and have you do specific tasks to test your thinking skills, such as attention, memory, and language
MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more or CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more if doctors suspect dementia or other problems such as a tumor or stroke
Spinal tap Spinal Tap Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a simple, painless procedure in which... read more (using a needle to get a sample of spinal fluid from your lower back) if doctors suspect a brain or spinal infection
How do doctors treat memory loss?
Treat any health problem causing your memory loss
Test you to see whether you should stop certain activities, such as driving
Offer tips, such as using lists and reminders
What can I do to help cope with memory loss?
Live a healthy life:
Eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables
Be active each day
See your doctor for regular check-ups
Take part in learning, social, and physical activities
Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night
Stop smoking and drinking alcohol
Use strategies to cope with memory loss:
Keep a detailed calendar
Stick with a routine, such as going to bed at the same time every night and getting ready the same way every morning
Repeat new information several times
Focus on just one thing at a time
Stay organized, such as always putting your car keys in the same place
Join social activities to stay involved with others and stay mentally active