Memory Loss

About 40% of adults—mostly people age 65 and older—experience a degree of memory loss, but only 5% to 8% go on to develop some level of dementia.

This article will explore some possible causes of memory loss, what symptoms you might expect, and how your healthcare provider may diagnose and treat your condition.

Older man touching his forehead, looking at a tablet with a healthcare provider.

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

Symptoms of Memory Loss

Memory loss can appear in many forms. The first symptom most people think of is forgetfulness, but memory loss can also appear as:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Misplacing items
  • Losing track of the date
  • Forgetting common words or phrases

Memory loss can go by many names, including:

Regardless of what it is called, memory loss that has an impact on your daily life needs to be evaluated to determine the severity and cause of the memory loss.

Causes of Memory Loss

There are many factors that can cause memory loss, and not all of these lead to permanent impairment.

Brain conditions are a major cause of more permanent or serious memory loss, and can include specific injuries such as:

Other diseases, infections, or conditions that develop in areas of the body other than the brain lead to confusion or memory loss as well. Examples of other conditions that can cause memory loss include:

What Medications Can Cause Memory Loss?

Aside from medical conditions, memory loss may also be a medication side effect.

Examples of medications most often associated with memory loss include:

How to Treat Memory Loss

Memory loss can sometimes be treated by taking care of the underlying condition. This is mostly true when memory loss is caused by conditions like acute infections, new medications, a minor head injury, or other short-term problems.

For memory loss caused by more chronic or long-term diseases, treating memory loss by addressing the underlying condition may not be as straightforward. Cancer and chronic conditions like Alzheimer's disease each have their own treatments, but your healthcare provider is the best resource for specific therapies.

Beyond medications, there are several steps you can take at home to help improve your memory and cognitive health. These include:

  • Learning new skills
  • Having a daily routine
  • Planning tasks
  • Making to-do lists
  • Using calendars and other memory tools
  • Putting important items in the same place each day
  • Staying active outside of your home
  • Participating in activities that stimulate the body and mind
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family
  • Exercising
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Controlling your blood pressure
  • Avoiding heavy alcohol use
  • Addressing any ongoing mental health problems like depression

The specific treatments for your memory loss will depend on the cause and severity of your condition. Talk to your healthcare provider before trying vitamins and supplements aimed at improving memory or cognitive function.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated with Memory Loss

There are factors that raise your chances of having memory loss. Some common risk factors are:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Other general health problems, especially heart and neurological diseases

Complications from memory loss are often related to a person's inability to take care of themselves. Possible complications may include:

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Memory Loss?

If you're experiencing memory loss, your healthcare provider will start by reviewing your family and personal medical histories with you, as well as any recent injuries or changes in medications. Blood testing can help rule out certain conditions or nutritional deficiencies.

If these examinations aren't enough to determine the cause of your memory loss, your healthcare provider may perform more detailed testing like:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you are having increasing trouble remembering important events or details, or if you have a difficult time concentrating or thinking clearly, talk to your doctor. In some cases, family and friends may bring changes in your demeanor or personality to your attention and encourage you to seek help.

If you are experiencing more severe forms of memory loss that include things like getting lost or suddenly becoming disoriented, talk to your healthcare provider or get medical attention right away.

Summary

Memory loss can arise for different reasons. Not every type of memory loss is dementia or Alzheimer's disease, and it may take investigating to determine and diagnose the cause of your memory problem.

A Word From Verywell

We all forget things from time to time, but true memory loss usually involves repeated and ongoing episodes of forgetfulness that can impact the quality of your daily life. If you or someone you know is becoming increasingly forgetful, showing changes in their normal behaviors, or displaying other concerning symptoms, seek the help of a healthcare provider in making an official diagnosis and recommending treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is all memory loss permanent?

    No. Some forms of memory loss can be caused by acute infections or certain medications. Treating the infection or changing medications may be effective in resolving problems with memory loss.

  • Does memory loss always mean you have Alzheimer's?

    There are many forms of memory loss, and being forgetful doesn't necessarily mean you have Alzheimer's disease. Talk to your healthcare provider about your overall health and when your symptoms started. There can be several conditions that can contribute to or cause memory loss.

  • Can memory loss be cured?

    Memory loss may be caused by factors like malnutrition, certain medications, and infections. These may get resolved by addressing the underlying problem. However, memory loss from chronic diseases—especially those involving the brain or nervous system—often results in permanent memory loss or other neurological changes.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alzheimer Society. The difference between normal aging and dementia.

  2. National Institute on Aging. Do memory problems always mean Alzheimer's disease?.

  3. MedlinePlus. Memory loss.

  4. Harvard Health Publishing/Harvard Medical School. 7 common causes of forgetfulness.

  5. National Institutes of Health. Memory, forgetfulness, and aging: What's normal and what's not?.

  6. Alzheimer's Association. Causes and risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.

  7. National Institutes of Health. Alzheimer's disease: Common medical problems.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.