Harvard Mental Health Letter

Seven common memory problems

Sometimes it's normal to forget things. Here is a look at the most typical lapses.

Forming and storing a memory is a multistep process that involves several parts of the brain. A memory is not a single entity, like a book on a shelf. Instead, memory is the aggregation of multiple streams of sensory information, filtered through the perception of the person observing or participating in the event. Each of the different components of memory is stored and processed in a different region of the brain.

Because memory storage and retrieval is so complex, even healthy people can experience memory loss or memory distortion from time to time. Dr. Daniel Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, has identified seven common "sins" of memory. Some of these memory flaws become more pronounced with age, but — unless they are extreme and persistent — they are not considered indicators of Alzheimer's disease or other memory-impairing illnesses.

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