Doctor holding a tablet with the words Memory Loss on it with text overlay: Is It "Normal" Memory Loss or Something Else?

Is It “Normal” Memory Loss or Something Else?

A lot of us have probably had that disturbing visit or phone call – our loved ones get confused, they can’t remember something we just talked about, or tell the same stories over and over…..

Of course, it may not be our loved ones we’re worried about, but ourselves. We walk into a room and can’t remember what we’re there for, we go through the list of four kids’ names before we get to the right one, we can’t find our car keys… get the point.

When this happens, how can we tell if it’s “normal” memory loss or something else?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, is a fairly common part of aging.” It’s not that unusual to temporarily forget someone’s name or misplace an item, and it’s even pretty common to forget why you walked into a room.

There’s a difference, though, in these normal, temporary lapses in memory and the memory loss that’s associated with dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other memory disorders.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America,

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that impacts memory, thinking and language skills, and the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia itself is not a disease, but a term used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, loss of judgment and other intellectual functions. Alzheimer’s disease can cause dementia.  More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Although each individual is different, and memory lapses can be completely normal, there are some common signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

First and foremost, memory loss that affects your daily life can be the first and most easily recognized sign of dementia.

Some other signs may include:

  • Inability to remember recent events, familiar places, names, etc.
  • Forgetting common words, or getting them confused with other words; ie, substituting the word ‘shoe’ for ‘jacket’
  • Changes in mood or personality that don’t seem to have any reason behind them
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Taking longer to complete routine tasks – Mayo Clinic uses the example of following a recipe
  • Struggling to do simple things such as tying one’s shoes or brushing their teeth
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting one’s keys in the refrigerator
  • Not knowing where they are or being confused about the time
  • Trouble judging situations
  • Getting lost in familiar areas

These are also some of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease. If you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to discuss them with your healthcare professional.

Not all memory loss is permanent, though. There are many medical problems that can cause memory loss or symptoms that mimic dementia. Many of these may be reversible.

Reversible Causes of Memory Loss

Some of the possible causes of reversible memory loss may be:

  • Head injury. We all know that concussions or Traumatic Brain Injuries can cause memory loss, but falls in which we hit our heads, even if we don’t lose consciousness, can also cause some memory loss.
  • Medications. Many medications (or combinations of medications) can cause memory loss or confusion.
  • Emotional Disorders. Things such as stress, depression, or anxiety can have an effect on our memory.
  • Vitamin B-12 Deficiency. Vitamin B-12 Deficiency can be common in older adults and this can cause issues with memory.
  • Hypothyroidism. Having an underactive thyroid can cause issues with memory and muddle our thinking.

What Should I Do If I’m Concerned?

If you’re concerned, either about your memory or a loved one’s, your first step should be to contact your Primary Care Physician. This should be the person who is most familiar with your medical history, the medications you take, and any health concerns you’re already being treated for. They’re in the best position to know whether what you’re experiencing is normal, or if it needs further action.

Your doctor may either administer a memory screening or refer you for one. To learn more about what a memory screening is, please visit

Obviously, the signs and symptoms listed above are not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool; rather, they’re just a guideline to help you recognize potential issues.

The good news is, there are things we can do to help keep our brains healthy throughout our lives. To learn more about them, please check out my post How Healthy Is Your Brain?.

I don’t want to ask my usual questions here, because this is such a personal subject. Please know, if you or your loved one are experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone. There is help available – please reach out.



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Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Alzheimer’s Association


    1. Thanks for sharing Resa. It IS kind of scary, but I found it kind of comforting too, because hearing that some of the things that concern me are normal made me feel better. I do the “walk in the room and can’t remember what I’m there for” way more often than I like to admit…. Hugs!

  1. This makes me feel better! I am always concerned with my memory issues, but my appear very normal.

  2. My aunt was recently diagnosed with this and it’s sad to watch. She kept getting lost and nobody would know where she went. All she wants to eat is sweets, so her doctors are questioning the link between excessive sugar and Alzheimer’s.

    1. I’m sorry to hear your aunt is dealing with this Michelle. I’ve known quite a few people affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and it really is a difficult disease, both for the patient and for their families. That’s an interesting point about the link between excessive sugar and Alzheimer’s I believe I read somewhere that people who have diabetes are at a great risk, so I don’t think the excessive sugar thing would surprise me at all. I really pray they will find a cure some day. Sending hugs your way sweet friend!

  3. Terri. Thank you. This is a well written blog on this important subject. Very informative and helpful.

    1. Thank you so much Sarah! I’m glad you found it helpful. It’s something many of us deal with in some capacity in our lives, whether family or friends. Knowing what to look for can certainly help us determine whether we or our loved ones need to see our doctors. Sending lots of love and hugs your way!

  4. It is more heart breaking than anything I’ve ever been thru taking care of my granny untill her death. It’s a horrible diease and there are no options that make a real difference. I have early unset dementia, I take two types of meds but thhey can only slow if they work at all. I have really bad days and other days I’m clear and can remember yesterday’s dinner. It’s a scary future.

    1. Thank you for sharing Melinda. I’m sorry this is something you have to deal with. I can only imagine how difficult it must be. I pray that one day they will find a cure, or at least medications that are more effective. Sending love and hugs your way sweet friend.

  5. Valuable information, Terri! It’s good to know what’s normal vs what should be concerning. Chronic illness turned my mind to mush. We all get a chuckle about it at home but it’s also scary because I don’t know how much further it will decline. I try exercise my brain, as I’m able, to keep those pathways firing. Hoping you’re doing well 🌸

    1. Thanks so much Mishka! I know what you mean about the chronic illness affecting your brain…. Fibro Fog is one of those symptoms that’s hardest for me to deal with. Exercising your brain is so important, and it’s something we forget about sometimes. Thanks for the reminder! Sending hugs your ways sweet friend!

  6. This is pretty daunting to read when you know how many are affected by Alzheimer’s, how ‘it could happen to anyone’. The thought of losing some of our mental faculties is a scary thing for many, I think in part because of that lack of control and feeling we’d be losing part of who we are. My grandmother developed it at an older age and I’ve known others with it who had an earlier onset, but I’ve not had that day-to-day kind of experience with living with someone with it, so I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be. I have to admit I felt a little uneasy reading this. Some of those things anyone can do – I do it, forgetting things, even the name of something routine and normal like ‘shoe’, I’ve gone to put the iron in the fridge, stuff like that. But I know it’s an ‘off’ moment. It’s my mother that has worried me sometimes, and it’s so unnerving. The other week we were in the supermarket and I saw her stopped randomly, looking around, and I went up to her and she said she forgot where she was for a moment. When she said she’d go pick up the bread, she looked so confused and didn’t know which direction to go. We tried to laugh it off but.. I don’t know. Her long term memory is typically far better than mine. It’s just a few odd other things. Knowing the fine line between normal and other reasons for it (as you’ve said with conditions like B12 deficiency or hypothyroidism), and when it’s time to seek specialist advice, is hard.

    Anyway, ramble ramble! Great post, Terri.
    Caz xx

    1. Caz, I’m so sorry this kind of touched a nerve for you. It’s hard to think of things like this happening to our loved ones or to us. It’s so hard to know what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not sometimes, and it’s also hard to know whether to talk to our loved ones about it. I think we probably all have those “off moments” that you talked about, but it’s the kind of things that happen over and over that we need to be concerned about. As you said, “it’s a fine line.” I hope your Mom has just had some off moments. Maybe just making a mental note of the things that concern you and noticing whether they happen more frequently could help. Sending lots of love your way sweet friend.

  7. Thanks for always educating me with your posts Terri. I really never knew too much about dementia. As I get older, I do notice that I have a tendency to forget readily available things that used to flow from my brain. Now I can keep a watchful eye out.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Mark! At least now you know that forgetting those things that are “on the tip of your tongue” can be attributed to normal aging. I’ve found the combination of Fibro Fog and getting a little older has me forgetting words quite often, but in researching for this, I did end up feeling a little better about that. Blessings to you!

  8. Some of these symptoms are caused by severe deep sleep deprivation! I had many of those symptoms and as my sleep improved many also improved. Sleep is usually a (part) culprit with fibromyalgia!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Melissa! It’s amazing how many different things can cause these symptoms. What’s also amazing is just what an effect sleep deprivation can have on our health. I’m glad you’ve been able to improve your sleep and the symptoms associated with a lack of it. Blessings to you sweet friend!

  9. Hi Terry, you are probably going to laugh but I couldn’t read the symptoms you listed………….they are just too darn scary. losing my mind is one of the things I worry the most about and I already have memory issues…………but, worry about them will not make things better. infact, the stress will cause more problems.
    Thanks for always educating us in so many areas of health!

    1. Oh Wendi, I would never laugh about that! I agree that they can be scary. What gave me the most comfort when reading the research was that 1. Some of the things I was worried about are fairly normal and 2. Some memory loss can be reversed. Also, we can do things now to keep our brains healthy throughout our lives. Of course, I don’t want you reading anything that’s going to stress you out, so I’m glad you didn’t finish reading those symptoms. Our friend Jennifer shared the link for a post she wrote about preventing dementia and you’ll be glad to know she mentioned that Fibro Fog is not linked to dementia. Sending hugs your way sweet friend.

      1. 🙂 thank you so very much Terri for understanding……….keeping my stress and anxiety under control is a daily battle and one I hope to win! Thank you for always being so very kind!

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