Dementia Care Site Map
Understanding Memory Loss


Memory Lapses

Memory lapses are a normal part of ageing and not a warning of serious impairment for most people. Many of us, when we reach a certain age, get a little worried when we misplace our keys or forget a phone number that we have dialed many times before. Lapses in memory and slowing of mental responses are a normal part of the ageing process for many people.


Forgetting things isn't always a sign of dementia but can be a symptom and should be investigated further by a health professional. 

If you are worried about your memory, you may like to complete the Alzheimer's Australia Vic checklist "Worried about your memory". As suggested you may like to discuss your responses to the checklist with your GP.

Memory loss in a person with dementia is persistent and progressive and may involve forgetting skills, events, people and places. 


The causes of memory loss are diverse and the result and the symptoms vary, however some causes are set out below.


Lack of concentration and memory loss

Lack of concentration is a common cause of memory loss. When our concentration is poor we tend to not notice things and so retention and recalling of such events is also poor. Poor concentration may stem from being bored or tired, but can at times be a sign of conditions such as depression or an anxiety disorder.


Depression and memory loss

Depression is one of the most common causes of short term memory loss, and it can severely impair the thought process.


Conditions causing memory loss

Physical problems can cause difficulties with concentration and memory.

Examples include:

  • Thyroid disorders


  • Dehydration


  • Infections


  • Head injuries
  • Certain vitamin deficiencies
  • Seizures


  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • The side effects of medications
  • Long-term over use of alcohol
  • Ageing and memory loss



Ageing is the most common cause of memory loss and is quite a normal process

This process is referred to as age associated memory impairment. Many people aged fifty to sixty may experience this common problem. It is however not a cause for concern and is only serious if the extent of memory loss is beyond the norm and impacts on day to day functioning, for example, learning new skills and absorbing new knowledge becomes much harder with our progressing age.


According to some researchers the more we stimulate and exercise our brain as we age, the slower the decline in memory.


Dementia and memory loss

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe various conditions which damage brain cells and lead to a loss of brain function over time. It is usually characterised by a gradual deterioration in memory and in the person's ability to carry out everyday activities, make decisions, understand information and express themselves. Dementia may also affect a person's mood, personality and behaviour.


Mild Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive function - or the process of thought - includes abilities such as learning, reading, speaking and writing. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which a person has problems with memory, language, or another mental function. This is further explained in our section dedicated to Mild Cognitive Impairment.


Distinguishing points between normal memory loss and that of a person with dementia


Person with dementia

Older Person


May forget part or all of an event

Memory may sometimes be vague

Sometimes may forget

Words or names for things or objects

Progressively forgets

Words or names are on the "tip of the tongue"

Written and verbal directions

Increasingly unable to follow

Able to follow

Stories on TV, in movies or books

Progressively loses ability to follow

Able to follow

Stored knowledge

Over time loses known information such as historical or political information

Although recall may be slower, information is essentially retained

Everyday skills such as dressing and cooking

Progressively loses capacity to perform tasks

Retains ability, unless physically impaired



What you need to know

  • There are differences between normal forgetfulness and more serious memory problems
  • It's important to understand the causes of memory problems and how they can be treated
  • You can get help for mild and serious memory problems


See your doctor if you are worried about your memory.  It's important to find out what is causing your memory problems.