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Memory Loss in Older Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about memory loss?

Some memory loss is common with aging. You may have sharp long-term memories from many years ago but have trouble remembering new information. Normal memory loss does not get worse and does not affect daily activities. Memory loss that gets worse over time or affects daily activities can be a sign of a serious medical problem, such as Alzheimer disease. Talk with your healthcare provider if you or someone close to you notices that your memory is worsening.

What are some signs and symptoms of memory loss that happens with aging?

  • Not remembering where you put your keys or glasses
  • Trouble recalling a familiar person's name, but then remembering it
  • Trouble remembering why you walked into a room
  • Missing an appointment because you forgot about it
  • Forgetting someone's birthday or an anniversary

What are some signs and symptoms of severe memory loss?

The following may be signs of a more serious health problem that needs treatment:

  • Not knowing how to do something you used to do
  • Trouble learning new facts, or trouble learning skills that need you to remember steps
  • Trouble following directions, or getting lost, even in an area you know
  • Not remembering if you took your medicine or finished a task
  • Not being able to remember events from your past, such as a trip you took
  • Thinking events that happened years ago happened recently
  • Forgetting to bathe, brush your teeth, or do other daily care tasks
  • Not recognizing a family member or friend you have known a long time

How is the cause of memory loss diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you or someone close to you about your memory loss. Your healthcare provider will ask you questions to test your thinking, language, and memory functions. If your healthcare provider thinks you may have a severe memory problem, you may need other tests. Tell the provider if memory problems are new for you or started suddenly. Your provider will ask about any recent head injury, and about all the medicines you take. Include vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter medicines, and prescription medicines.

What can I do to manage memory loss?

Some memory loss cannot be treated, but you may be able to stop it from getting worse. Your healthcare provider may need to stop or change certain medicines you are taking, or change the dose. The provider may also recommend vitamins or supplements to help improve your memory. The following are ways to help manage memory loss:

  • Ask someone to help you if needed. Ask the person to help you create lists of things you need to do or set up medicine reminders. The person might be able to call you to remind you of an upcoming task, event, or anniversary.
  • Find a place for items you use often. You may be able to remember where your keys, wallet, glasses, or other items are if you create a place for each item. It may also help if you say that you are returning an item to its place. This may trigger your memory later when you are looking for the item.
  • Set up reminders. Calendars, timers, or alarm clocks can help you remember to do tasks such as taking your medicine. Some medicine dispensers can be set to sound an alarm when it is time to take the medicine. Containers are also available that are labelled for each day of the week. These containers can help you remember if you need to take the medicine or already took it. You may be able to set up reminders with your bank to help you remember to pay your bills on time.
  • Write down anything you need to remember. Examples include upcoming healthcare appointments and medication refills. Put the reminders where you will see them, such as on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. You may want to make a list of things you need to do each day. You can cross the item off when the task is finished.
  • Create a quiet learning environment. This may help you remember new information more easily. Try to find a place where you will not be distracted by noise, light, or other people. Go slowly and repeat the information to help you remember.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What can I do to prevent my memory loss from getting worse?

  • Play brain games. Games such as crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, or math games can help improve your memory.
  • Spend time with other people. This can help strengthen your memory, especially if you talk about past or upcoming events.
  • Take a class to learn something new. This will help you think in new ways and make your memory work harder.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole-grain breads, and cooked beans. Eat more foods with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Examples include salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of foods that contain fatty acids and how much you should eat each day.
    Sources of Omega 3
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise improves blood flow and can help you think and remember more easily. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.
  • Create a sleep routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Sleep is important for memory. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can reduce the amount of oxygen going to your brain. This can make memory problems worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can lead to both short-term and long-term memory problems. Ask your healthcare provider if alcohol is safe for you, and how much is safe to drink.

When should I or someone close to me contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new, sudden, or worsening memory problems.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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