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Memory loss – the basics

Everybody forgets things now and again. But what exactly is memory loss and when does it become something more serious?

The definition

Memory loss, for which the medical term is amnesia, is when you are unable to recall information and events that happened in the past.

Memory loss explained

None of us are able to remember every single thing that happened from birth up until the present day. The brain filters out facts and information that it thinks aren’t important. However, you will be able to remember important events throughout your life, such as getting married, having a baby or visiting an exciting location.

But if you are unable to recall certain things, particularly those that you used to be able to remember, you may have memory loss. There’s no need to panic though. Not being able to recall something doesn’t automatically mean you have dementia because there are many other factors which can cause memory loss.

It’s also important to note that not all memory loss is permanent. Sometimes you can have what’s known as ‘transient’ memory loss, which means you may start remembering things again, just a little while later. You’ve probably heard of people occasionally getting amnesia and not remembering certain people or events, only for something to ‘click’ back into place in their brain – usually due to counselling or therapy – and allow them to remember again.

What’s more, there are different types of memory, and so there are different types of memory loss. For example, you can have short-term memory loss, which means you can’t remember what happened last week, but you can remember something from 20 years ago.

When is it dementia?

Many people worry that the first signs of memory loss are a sure sign that you’ve developed Alzheimer’s disease, or other form of dementia.

Did you know? Around 40 per cent of people over 65 have some type of memory problem, and only 15 per cent will develop dementia each year.

Distinguishing between whether you’re just a bit forgetful, have mild cognitive impairment or actually have dementia can be tricky, but there are ways to tell.

Finding a cause of memory loss

Whether it’s depression, anxiety, medicines, lifestyle issues or dementia, the sooner you find the cause, the sooner you can start making changes and treating the problem.

If you’re worried about memory loss, it’s important that you’re properly assessed (usually by your GP) to find out the cause, through a series of tests.

Preventing memory loss

Many people wonder whether memory loss is inevitable as they get older, but in reality, it’s more likely to be cognitive decline. That is, it takes longer to drudge up facts or words, because your brain is slower, but you get there in the end.

There are steps you can take to help slow cognitive decline, such as diet and lifestyle changes, so it’s worth thinking about this now. And if you are affected by memory loss, there are ways to help you live with it so you can maintain a good quality of life.

Check out our memory loss section of the site for more information, tips and advice.