Encyclopedia / M / Memory Loss

Memory Loss


A mild decline in memory and the rate of information processing occurs normally with age, but does not affect daily function and does not generally progress.


Like the body's muscles, bones, and other vital organs, the brain feels the effect of aging. Through years of constant use and biological wear and tear, the brain gradually loses some of its sharpness in processing information and in relaying the multitude of signals essential to day-to-day functioning.

As people begin to age, they may begin to have problems with memory. One of the most noticeable problem areas involves the transient forgetting of names. Virtually everyone has this problem in older age.

It is important to note that normal age-related memory loss does not indicate diminished intelligence or ability to learn. The brain may simply need more time to recall information from memory or to learn new information. Simple forgetfulness is not a disease.

Studies on learning and memory constitute an active area of research for many neuroscientists. In general, how the brain selects and stores information falls into three categories. Each category serves a distinct purpose and is generally independent of intelligence or level of education. Memory categories include:

Short-term/temporary recollection. If you are calling the florist, you look up the phone number and remember it long enough to place the call. Once you have finished the call, the information vanishes. If you were interrupted before making the call, you may lose this material.

Long-term (recent). This category preserves the recent past, such as what you had for breakfast today, or the outfit that you wore a few days ago.

Long-term (remote). This records the distant past. These memories, learned 10 or 20 years ago, form your knowledge base. This category can include snatches of a conversation or a tune from your high school fight song. Other information in this memory store shapes your personal history, such as what you were doing the day President John Kennedy was assassinated.

Aging does not generally affect short - or long-term (remote) memory. These functions are well-preserved. However, long-term (recent) memory often declines with age. To store and retrieve recent information from long-term (recent) memory, the brain performs a complex chain of chemical and electrical functions involving nerve cells. As one ages, some of these cells may deteriorate and function less efficiently.


Is there significant memory loss?

Is it short- or long-term?

Can Alzheimer's disease be ruled out in this case?

Are there any medical problems that might account for memory loss?

Are there medications that I am taking that could affect my memory?

What can be done to compensate for any loss?

What are the signs/symptoms that the condition is getting worse?