What are the Signs of Memory Impairment?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2018
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Common signs of memory impairment include confusion, trouble keeping track of appointments, and difficulty performing basic tasks. Memory impairment is itself a condition, but it becomes apparent in people's lives in different ways. For instance, some people quite apparently experience difficulty remembering names, events, or dates, while other people forget things that are less tied to language, such as directions, the time of day, or how to perform a task. It is difficult to differentiate between signs of abnormal memory impairment and normal aging processes because aging almost always includes some loss of memory. When memory impairment is caused by factors other than aging, it can be a sign of serious illness or trauma.

Forgetfulness and mild confusion are common symptoms of memory impairment. When they are infrequent or minor occurrences, they are not typically considered reason for worry. Age-related memory loss does not usually require treatment.

More severe memory impairment, such as forgetting the names of close family, being so disoriented that one does not realize where one is, or having difficulty understanding conversations, can point to a major disorder. These signs typically increase gradually, although a person may notice them suddenly. When memory loss actually occurs suddenly, it is usually related to trauma and must be treated immediately.


Confusion is often the first sign of memory loss in older adults, but a sign that may be more apparent to others is moodiness. People who are experiencing disorientation are often much more depressed and frustrated due to the effects of the confusion. They may also experience chemical mood swings. A person with memory loss may not be able to connect the memory loss to increased frustration, but outside observers often notice this sign.

Some people begin to worry about memory loss when minor mishaps occur, such as losing one's keys or becoming suddenly confused. These problems can often be explained entirely by one's situation and may be related to stress, being busy, or just having a bad day. Most importantly, overcoming the factor that causes normal memory loss often immediately and completely cures the problem. True impairment is often not reversible and is much more serious than mild forgetfulness.

Decision making is also tied to memory. A person with severe memory loss may be more likely to make poor decisions and can be vulnerable to abuse. Frequently, memory impairment does not occur in isolation, and other brain impairments may occur at the same time. It is essential for people who are impaired to be adequately taken care of, so proper diagnosis of memory impairment is very important.



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