Forgetfulness: What is "normal" memory loss?

Everyone forgets things from time to time. It tends to happen more often as you get older, which can be worrisome. Normal memory loss, though, doesn't cause significant problems with your day-to-day functioning or your independence.

Through a series of questions and the answers you select, this guide will help determine if your forgetfulness is within the realm of the expected or if it is more problematic. It will also explore causes of memory loss and help identify any items that you might be able to change in order to improve your memory.

There are many things that can affect one's memory. Whatever path your answers take, we suggest following it to the end of the guide.

Let's get started.

It is normal to have some difficulty remembering names and summoning specific words as you get older. This may gradually worsen as you age, but it should not prevent you from getting around in your daily life. Normal memory loss does not affect a person's daily function. Abnormal or worrisome memory loss is different--it can affect daily function.

Other than forgetting people's names, words for things, and where you left your keys, is your memory generally okay?

Yes, my memory is generally okay.

No, I am more forgetful than this.

Answers to a few questions can help sort normal memory loss from worrisome memory loss.

- Have you ever left the house for a familiar destination and gotten lost on the way there or when returning home?

- Have you ever forgotten how to do a familiar activity, such as doing the laundry or cooking dinner?

- Do you sometimes repeat the same stories in the same conversation ?

- Is your memory very much worse than it was one year ago?

Are any of these true for you?

Yes, at least one of these is true for me.

No, none of these are true for me.

We are glad to hear that you do not have any of the more worrisome signs of memory loss. If you are experiencing memory loss, it is likely related to the normal aging process.

However, you have concerns about your memory. So please continue with the guide to learn about reasons for memory loss.

Click here to continue.

Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety can cause memory loss. You could have a mood disorder if you:

- Often feel down, sad, or blue

- Have lost pleasure in things that normally make you happy

- Have recently lost or gained weight

- Are having trouble sleeping, or find yourself sleeping more than usual

- Can't find meaning in your life

- Feel anxious when other people don't

Do any of those apply to you?

Yes, at least one of these is true for me.

No, I don't think any of these apply to me.

Your answer suggests that neither depression nor anxiety is a major factor for your memory loss.

Drinking too much another is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine or one bottle of beer or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that you may be depressed or anxious. Depression and anxiety can have a major effect on memory. Depression and anxiety also make it harder to concentrate, so it is harder to learn and remember new things.

Both depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. If you think you may have one of these conditions, talk with your doctor or with a mental health professional.

Click here to continue the guide.

Drinking too much is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine or one bottle of beer or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that your current alcohol consumption is unlikely to be the cause of your memory loss. However, if you were once a heavy drinker, it is possible that your past alcohol use could be related to your memory troubles.

Were you a heavy drinker in the past?

Yes, I was once a heavy drinker.

No, I was never a heavy drinker.

So far you have indicated that you have a potentially worrisome memory disorder but don't have symptoms of anxiety or depression and you don't drink too much alcohol.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

It's great that you have gotten your drinking under control. It is possible that your prior heavy alcohol use has affected your memory, but there may be other factors contributing to your memory loss.

Please continue with the guide.

Click here to continue the guide.

Try decreasing the amount of alcohol you are currently drinking to see if your memory improves.

If you have been a heavy drinker for a while, keep in mind that alcohol can cause permanent changes in the brain and a long history of heavy alcohol use sometimes causes irreversible changes.

Other factors beside alcohol can also affect memory, so it may be helpful to continue with the guide.

Click here to continue the guide.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

It is possible that you may be having trouble with your memory because of the medications you are taking. Discuss all the medications and supplements you are taking with your doctor and/or pharmacist, and talk with him or her about your memory problems.

Don't abruptly stop any of your medications. Consult with your doctor about how to proceed. With some medications, it is important to taper off them slowly.

Keep going, there is more to learn about memory loss.

Click here to continue the guide.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

You have come to the end of our guide.

If you have concerns about your memory that we haven't covered in this guide, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Although these are vague symptoms that are part of many conditions, they can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Talk with your doctor about these symptoms and your concerns about your memory.

Your doctor may perform a blood test called TSH to make sure your thyroid gland is making enough thyroid hormone. If it isn't, taking thyroid medication is simple and should improve how you feel.

Click here to finish the guide.

Thanks for completing our guide.

If you have concerns about your memory that we haven't covered in this guide, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Your answer suggests that you may have memory loss that is not simply caused by normal aging.

Make an appointment with your doctor.

To learn about what may be causing your memory problem,

Click here to continue with the guide.

Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety can cause memory loss. You could have a mood disorder if you:

- Often feel down, sad, or blue

- Have lost pleasure in things that normally make you happy

- Have recently lost or gained weight

- Are having trouble sleeping, or find yourself sleeping more than usual

- Can't find meaning in your life

- Feel anxious when other people don't

Do any of those apply to you?

Yes, at least one of these is true for me.

No, I don't think any of these apply to me.

Your answer suggests that neither depression nor anxiety is a major factor for your memory loss.

Drinking too much another is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine or one bottle of beer or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that you may be depressed or anxious. Depression and anxiety can have a major effect on memory. Depression and anxiety also make it harder to concentrate, so it is harder to learn and remember new things.

Both depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. If you think you may have one of these conditions, talk with your doctor or with a mental health professional.

Click here to continue the guide.

Drinking too much is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine or one bottle of beer or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that your current alcohol consumption is unlikely to be the cause of your memory loss. However, if you were once a heavy drinker, it is possible that your past alcohol use could be related to your memory troubles.

Were you a heavy drinker in the past?

Yes, I was once a heavy drinker.

No, I was never a heavy drinker.

So far you have indicated that you have a potentially worrisome memory disorder but don't have symptoms of anxiety or depression and you don't drink too much alcohol.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

So far, your answers indicate that you don't have symptoms of depression or anxiety, that alcohol is not an issue, and that your medications don't seem to be relevant to your change in memory.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

It's great that you have gotten your drinking under control. It is possible that your prior heavy alcohol use has affected your memory, but there may be other factors contributing to your memory loss.

Please continue with the guide.

Click here to continue.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

Try decreasing the amount of alcohol you are currently drinking to see if your memory improves.

If you have been a heavy drinker for a while, keep in mind that alcohol can cause permanent changes in the brain and a long history of heavy alcohol use sometimes causes irreversible changes.

Other factors beside alcohol can also affect memory, so it may be helpful to continue with the guide.

Click here to continue the guide.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

It is possible that you may be having trouble with your memory because of the medications you are taking. Discuss all the medications and supplements you are taking with your doctor and/or pharmacist, and talk with him or her about your memory problems.

Don't abruptly stop any of your medications. Consult with your doctor about how to proceed. With some medications, it is important to taper off them slowly.

Keep going, there is more to learn about memory loss.

Click here to continue the guide.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

We have discussed many of the processes, both reversible and irreversible, that can cause memory loss. Now we come to Alzheimer's disease. We saved this for last because Alzheimer's cannot be diagnosed until other health problems and conditions have been ruled out as possible causes of memory loss.

There are two key risk factors for Alzheimer's disease:

- Being age 65 or older

- Having a parent or a sibling who developed Alzheimer's disease before age 65

Do either of these apply to you?

Yes, one or both applies to me.

No, neither applies to me.

Although these are vague symptoms that are part of many conditions, they can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Talk with your doctor about these symptoms and your concerns about your memory.

Your doctor may perform a blood test called TSH to make sure your thyroid gland is making enough thyroid hormone. If it isn't, taking thyroid medication is simple and should improve how you feel.

You are almost finished with the guide.

Click here to continue.

We have discussed many of the processes, both reversible and irreversible, that can cause memory loss. Now we come to Alzheimer's disease. We saved this for last because Alzheimer's cannot be diagnosed until other health problems and conditions have been ruled out as possible causes of memory loss.

There are two key risk factors for Alzheimer's disease:

- Being age 65 or older

- Having a parent or a sibling who developed Alzheimer's disease before age 65

Do either of these apply to you?

Yes, one or both applies to me.

No, neither applies to me.

Age and family history are two of the major risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. So, it's less likely that your memory loss is related to this condition.

Click here to finish the guide.

Since your symptoms are more than expected for simple age-related memory loss, please call your doctor's office to arrange an appointment.

Mention any concerns we have covered and any others that you think might be related to becoming forgetful.

Alzheimer's is more common in people over age 65 and in people who have a parent or sibling with the disease. However, having a close relative who developed Alzheimer's disease does not mean that you have Alzheimer's or that you will get it.

There is no single, definitive test that can diagnose Alzheimer's disease. Instead, the diagnosis is based on a physician's evaluation. This evaluation includes many questions to test memory, a physical exam, and other tests to rule out other possible causes of memory problems.

Click here to finish the guide.

Thanks for completing our guide. We hope it was helpful.

If you have not already done so, please call your doctor's office to arrange an appointment to discuss your memory loss. Mention any concerns we have covered and any others that you think might be related to becoming forgetful.

If you have concerns about your memory that haven't come up in this guide, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

This is good news. You likely have mild age-related short-term memory loss.

Just so you know what worrisome memory loss is like, you may want to continue the guide.

Click here to continue with the guide.

Worrisome signs of significant memory loss include:

- Leaving the house for a familiar destination and getting lost on the way there or when returning home

- Forgetting how to do a familiar activity, such as doing the laundry or cooking dinner

- Repeating the same stories in the same conversation

- Becoming much more forgetful over the past year

If any of these are true, it's a good idea to arrange an appointment with your doctor.

Please continue with the guide to learn about more reasons for memory loss

Click here to continue with the guide.

Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can cause memory loss. You could have a mood disorder if you

- Often feel down, sad, or blue

- Have lost pleasure in things that normally make you happy

- Have recently lost or gained weight

- Are having trouble sleeping, or find yourself sleeping more than usual

- Can't find meaning in your life

- Feel anxious when other people don't

Do any of those apply to you?

Yes, at least one of these is true for me.

No, I don't think any of these apply to me.

Your answer suggests that neither depression nor anxiety is a major factor for your memory loss.

Drinking too much another is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine or one bottle of beer or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that you may be depressed or anxious. Depression and anxiety can have a major effect on memory. Depression and anxiety also make it harder to concentrate, so it is harder to learn and remember new things.

Both depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. If you think you may have one of these, talk with your doctor or with a mental health professional.

Click here to continue with the guide.

Drinking too much another is another major cause of memory problems. Alcohol can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. Current recommendations for alcohol consumption based on heart health, liver health, and breast cancer risk are no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. (One drink is one glass of wine, one bottle of beer, or one shot glass of liquor.)

Do you think you might be drinking too much?

Yes, I might be.

No, definitely not.

Your answer suggests that your current alcohol consumption is unlikely to be the cause of your memory loss. However, if you were once a heavy drinker, it is possible that your past alcohol use could be related to your memory troubles.

Were you a heavy drinker in the past?

Yes, I was once a heavy drinker.

No, I was never a heavy drinker.

So far you have indicated that you have a potentially worrisome memory disorder but don't have symptoms of anxiety or depression and you don't drink too much alcohol.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

It's great that you have gotten your drinking under control. It is possible that your prior heavy alcohol use has affected your memory, but there may be other factors contributing to your memory loss.

Please continue with the guide.

Click here to continue with the guide.

Try decreasing the amount of alcohol you are currently drinking to see if your memory improves.

If you have been a heavy drinker for a while, keep in mind that alcohol can cause permanent changes in the brain, and a long history of heavy alcohol use sometimes causes irreversible changes.

Alcohol may not be the only factor altering your memory. Continue the guide to see other possibilities.

Click here to continue with the guide.

Medications are another common cause of memory problems. Many different medications have been associated with memory problems. Of these, medications for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders have the strongest links to forgetfulness and memory loss.

Sometimes, starting a higher dose of a medication that wasn't causing problems before can contribute to a memory problem.

Prescription medications aren't the only culprit. Over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and other so-called dietary supplements, can also cause memory problems.

Did you start a new medication or dietary supplement, or increase the dose of one you were already taking, at about the same time you experienced a change in memory?

Yes, I did.

No, neither applies to me.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause decreased memory. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

It is possible that you may be having trouble with your memory because of the medications, herbs, or dietary supplements you are taking. Discuss all the medications and supplements you are taking with your doctor and/or pharmacist, and talk with him or her about your memory problems.

Don't abruptly stop any of your medications. Consult with your doctor about how to proceed. With some medications, it is important to taper off them slowly.

You are almost finished.

Click here to continue with the guide.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can sometimes cause trouble with remembering things. But it would be unusual for memory loss to be the only symptom.

Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

- Constipation

- Difficulty staying warm

- Dry skin

- Fatigue

- Muscle aches

- Weight gain

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Yes, I am experiencing some of these symptoms.

No, this does not sound like me.

You have come to the end of our guide.

If you have concerns about your memory that haven't come up in this guide, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Although these are vague symptoms that are part of many conditions, they can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Talk with your doctor about these symptoms and your concerns about your memory.

Your doctor may perform a blood test called TSH to make sure your thyroid gland is making enough thyroid hormone. If it isn't, taking thyroid medication is simple and should improve how you feel.

Click here to finish the guide.

Thanks for completing our guide.

If you have concerns about your memory that haven't come up in this guide, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.