Memory Lapses: Cause for Worry?

Medically Reviewed

Do you worry that you may be experiencing symptoms of dementia when you forget what you had for lunch yesterday or what you and your spouse did for your anniversary last year? According to scientists at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, being aware of your inability to remember an event—called episodic memory—is a sign that your cognitive function is likely intact. However, people who have dementia may begin to lose awareness of this type of memory loss about two to three years before dementia onset. Noticeable memory decline preceded memory unawareness for several years.

The researchers, publishing in 2015 in the journal Neurology, based their conclusions on the analysis of three longitudinal studies of 2,092 adults older than 50 whose cognitive abilities were observed for about eight years. None of the participants had memory or cognitive impairment at the beginning of the studies. The researchers also found that 70-year-olds had a faster progression of memory unawareness than people in their late 80s.

If you’re concerned about your memory, your doctor can assess your cognitive function during your annual wellness exam, which is covered by Medicare. And if you notice that a loved one is not aware of memory lapses, let his or her doctor know. Although dementia can’t be cured, there’s a chance that some early treatment may help slow or minimize symptoms. An early diagnosis can also allow for additional time to plan for future care.