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Just Forgetfulness or Something More Serious?

Memory loss can be mild or serious. Know the difference.

By NIH/National Institute on Aging

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.

But forgetting how to make change, use the telephone or find your way home may be signs of a more serious memory problem.

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 certain words, or find our glasses. These changes are often signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems.

See your doctor if you're worried about your forgetfulness. Tell him or her about your concerns. Be sure to make a follow-up appointment to check your memory in the next 6 months to a year. If you think you might forget, ask a family member, friend, or the doctor's office to remind you.

What Can I Do About Mild Forgetfulness?

You can do many things to help keep your memory sharp and stay alert. Look at the list below for some helpful ideas.

Here are some ways to help your memory:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • 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 make it hard to do everyday things. For example, you may find it hard to drive, shop, or even talk with a friend. Signs of serious memory problems may include:

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

What Can I Do About Serious Memory Problems?

See your doctor if you are having any of the problems listed above. It’s important to find out what might be causing a serious memory problem. Once you know the cause, you can get the right treatment.

Based on editorial content provided by the NIH/National Institute on Aging from its booklet "Understanding Memory Loss."

NIH/National Institute on Aging
By NIH/National Institute on Aging
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