Recent Blog Articles

Mind & Mood

Do memory lapses signal pending dementia?

November 13, 2014








Image: Thinkstock

If you notice troubling memory changes, it's probably not cause for immediate alarm, suggests a study published online Sept. 14, 2014, in Neurology. Researchers tracked more than 500 people with an average age of 73 and found there was about a decade from the time memory complaints began until there was a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, and 12 years before there was a diagnosis of dementia. But the delay in diagnosis doesn't mean memory issues in older adults should be ignored. It may signal the need for you to get a baseline assessment that can be used for comparison in the future.

How do you know what's normal and what isn't? "Unless memory problems are extreme and persistent, they are not considered indicators of memory-impairing illnesses. Some memory problems become more pronounced with age, but these difficulties often tend to be related to absentmindedness," says Harvard Medical School psychology instructor Dr. Kim Willment. "Struggling to remember a particular word or a name is not at all unusual. Walking into a room and not remembering the reason for going would also be quite common. We become more worried when we hear that a person has completely forgotten a major event or activity or pertinent details from that activity within several weeks. For example, it would be concerning to have attended a wedding two to three weeks ago and then forgotten the wedding itself or who got married," says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.