Normal age-related memory loss doesn’t prevent you from living a full and productive life. For example, you may forget a person’s name, but recall it later in the day. You might misplace your glasses occasionally. Or maybe you find that you need to make lists more often than in the past in order to remember appointments or tasks.

These changes in memory are generally manageable and don’t disrupt your ability to work, live independently or maintain a social life.

Memory loss and dementia

The word “dementia” is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms, including impairment in memory, reasoning, judgment, language and other thinking skills. Dementia begins gradually in most cases, worsens over time and significantly impairs a person’s abilities in work, social interactions and relationships.

Often, memory loss is one of the first or more-recognizable signs of dementia.

Other early signs may include:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing words up — saying “bed” instead of “table,” for example
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks, such as following a recipe
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer
  • Getting lost while walking or driving around a familiar neighborhood
  • Undergoing sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason
  • Becoming less able to follow directions

Diseases that cause progressive damage to the brain — and consequently result in dementia — include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia
  • Vascular dementia (multi-infarct dementia)
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Each of these conditions has a somewhat different disease process (pathology). Memory impairment isn’t always the first sign of disease, and the type of memory problems may vary.