Understanding Memory Loss: What To Do When You Have Trouble Remembering

Differences between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems

Mary's story

older woman looking out of a window

Mary couldn't find her car keys. She looked on the hook just inside the front door. They weren’t there. She searched in her purse. No luck. Finally, she found them on her desk. Yesterday, she forgot her neighbor’s name. Her memory was playing tricks on her. She was starting to worry about it.

She decided to see her doctor. After a complete check-up, her doctor said that Mary was fine. Her forgetfulness was just a normal part of getting older. The doctor suggested that Mary take a class, play cards with friends, or help out at the local school to sharpen her memory.

What is mild forgetfulness?

It is true that some of us get more forgetful as we age. It may take longer to learn new things, remember certain words, or find our glasses. These changes are often signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems.

See your doctor if you're worried about your forgetfulness. Tell him or her about your concerns. Be sure to make a follow-up appointment to check your memory in the next 6 months to a year. If you think you might forget, ask a family member, friend, or the doctor's office to remind you.

What can I do about mild forgetfulness?

older man and grandson

You can do many things to help keep your memory sharp and stay alert. Look at the list below for some helpful ideas.

Here are some ways to help your memory:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • Use memory tools such as big calendars, to-do lists, and notes to yourself.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Get lots of rest.
  • Exercise and eat well.
  • Don’t drink a lot of alcohol.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for weeks at a time.
  • Learn more about staying cognitively healthy.

What is a serious memory problem?

doctor speaking to older couple

Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things. For example, you may find it hard to drive, shop, or even talk with a friend. Signs of serious memory problems may include:

  • asking the same questions over and over again
  • getting lost in places you know well
  • not being able to follow directions
  • becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • not taking care of yourself—eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe

What can I do about serious memory problems?

See your doctor if you are having any of the problems listed above. It’s important to find out what might be causing a serious memory problem. Once you know the cause, you can get the right treatment.

Publication Date: May 2013
Page Last Updated: April 27, 2017