Is It Normal Memory Loss Or Something Else?

A lot of us have probably had that disturbing visit or phone call – our loved ones get confused, they can’t remember something we just talked about, or tell the same stories over and over…..

Of course, it may not be our loved ones we’re worried about, but ourselves. We walk into a room and can’t remember what we’re there for, we go through the list of four kids’ names before we get to the right one, we can’t find our car keys… get the point.

When this happens, how can we tell if it’s “normal” memory loss or something else?

According to the Mayo Clinic (1), “Some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, is a fairly common part of aging.” It’s not that unusual to temporarily forget someone’s name or misplace an item, and it’s even pretty common to forget why you walked into a room.

There’s a difference, though, in these normal, temporary lapses in memory and the memory loss that’s associated with dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other memory disorders.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (2),

“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that impacts memory, thinking and language skills, and the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia itself is not a disease, but a term used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, loss of judgment and other intellectual functions. Alzheimer’s disease can cause dementia. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Although each individual is different, and memory lapses can be completely normal, there are some common signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

First and foremost, memory loss that affects your daily life can be the first and most easily recognized sign of dementia.

Some other signs may include:

  • Inability to remember recent events, familiar places, names, etc.
  • Forgetting common words, or getting them confused with other words; ie, substituting the word ‘shoe’ for ‘jacket’
  • Changes in mood or personality that don’t seem to have any reason behind them
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Taking longer to complete routine tasks – Mayo Clinic uses the example of following a recipe
  • Struggling to do simple things such as tying one’s shoes or brushing their teeth
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting one’s keys in the refrigerator
  • Not knowing where they are or being confused about the time
  • Trouble judging situations
  • Getting lost in familiar areas

These are also some of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease. If you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to discuss them with your healthcare professional.

Not all memory loss is permanent, though. There are many medical problems that can cause memory loss or symptoms that mimic dementia. Many of these may be reversible.

Reversible Causes of Memory Loss

Some of the possible causes of reversible memory loss may be:

Head injury

We all know that concussions or Traumatic Brain Injuries can cause memory loss, but falls in which we hit our heads, even if we don’t lose consciousness, can also cause some memory loss.


Many medications (or combinations of medications) can cause memory loss or confusion.

Emotional Disorders

Things such as stress, depression, or anxiety can have an effect on our memory.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency can be common in older adults and this can cause issues with memory.


Having an underactive thyroid can cause issues with memory and muddle our thinking.

What Should I Do If I’m Concerned?

If you’re concerned, either about your memory or a loved one’s, your first step should be to contact your Primary Care Physician. This should be the person who is most familiar with your medical history, the medications you take, and any health concerns you’re already being treated for. They’re in the best position to know whether what you’re experiencing is normal, or if it needs further action.

Your doctor may either administer a memory screening or refer you for one. To learn more about what a memory screening is, please visit (3)

Obviously, the signs and symptoms listed above are not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool; rather, they’re just a guideline to help you recognize potential issues.

The good news is, there are things we can do to help keep our brains healthy throughout our lives.

Physically, the same things that are good for our hearts are good for our brains. And as we talked about in How’s Your Intellectual Wellness, “for those of us who may be getting a little older or dealing with cognitive difficulties, it can become even more important to keep learning new things, fostering our creativity, and sharing what we’ve learned with others. These are some of the things that keep our brains forming new connections and maintaining our brain health.”

As always with more personal subjects, I won’t ask my usual questions, but if you’d like to share anything I’d love to hear from you. Please know, if you or your loved one are experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone. There is help available – please reach out.



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Doctor holding a piece of paper saying, "MEMORY LOSS", with text overlay: Is It Normal Memory Loss or Something Else?




(3) Alzheimer’s Association,

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  1. My own memory is not as sharp as it used to be, so I write out sticky notes, and then misplace them! Losing the memory is a frightening thing!

    1. I can sympathize, Jeff. I have a notebook that I write all my ‘lists’ in. Whenever we’re doing anything other than day-to-day stuff, I write out a list and then check it off as we leave the house to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Of course, I have been known to make my grocery list only to get to the grocery store and realize my list is at home on the counter…. Sometimes I think that we just have so much going on these days that it’s not a matter of losing our memories, but rather attention. We’re trying to pay attention to too many things at once, and there’s no such thing as true multi-tasking. Brain science tells us you can’t pay the same amount of attention to more than one thing at once. Hope you and your lovely wife are doing well my friend. Blessings to you!

      1. Losing attention versus losing memory! That makes a lot of sense, Terri!! I like that a lot!! And thank you for the well wishes! May you and yours be blessed!

  2. What a truly educational post Terri. It is something for me to reflect and learn from since I’m the primary care giver for my mother. She has been forgetful a lot more recently but I just chalked that up to old age but after reading your post, I’m going to be more conscious of looking out for the signs and symptoms.

    1. Thank you so much Mark. You know, in your Mom’s case, it really could just be due to her age, as some forgetfulness is normal. I think the key for us when we’re dealing with elderly parents is to be able to differentiate between what seems the usual age-related forgetfulness and the signs of dementia. It seems like it can be a fine line sometimes. Hope you and your family are well my friend. Blessings to you!

  3. A very important post Terri, being able to catch Dementia in its very early stages leads to greater help pharmologically & a better quality of life.

    And you make a very good point here too, other medical issues can mimic Dementia so it’s extremely important to get medically assessed asap.
    Blessings, Jennifer

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer! Early detection, or figuring out if something else is causing the memory loss is so important. I hope you’re doing as well as possible with your cool weather there. It’s a little on the warm side in my part of the world right now, though it has been a little cooler than normal for this time of year. Sending hugs your way!

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