Information about Normal "Senior Moments" & Serious Memory Loss

Occasional memory lapses, such as forgetting why you walked into a room or having difficulty recalling a person's name, become more common as we approach our 50s and 60s. It's comforting to know that this minor forgetfulness is a normal sign of aging, not a sign of dementia.

But other types of memory loss, such as forgetting appointments or becoming momentarily disoriented in a familiar place, may indicate mild cognitive impairment. In dementia—the most serious form of memory impairment—people often find themselves disoriented in time and place and unable to name common objects or recognize once-familiar people.

Here are some examples of the types of memory problems common in normal age-related forgetfulness, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia.

Normal Age-Related Forgetfulness

  • Sometimes misplaces keys, eyeglasses, or other items.
  • Momentarily forgets an acquaintance's name.
  • Occasionally has to "search" for a word.
  • Occasionally forgets to run an errand.
  • May forget an event from the distant past.
  • When driving, may momentarily forget where to turn; quickly orients self.
  • Jokes about memory loss.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

  • Frequently misplaces items.
  • Frequently forgets people's names and is slow to recall them.
  • Has more difficulty using the right words.
  • Begins to forget important events and appointments.
  • May forget more recent events or newly learned information.
  • May temporarily become lost more often. May have trouble understanding and following a map.
  • Worries about memory loss. Family and friends notice the lapses in memory.

Dementia

  • Forgets what an item is used for or puts it in an inappropriate place.
  • May not remember knowing a person.
  • Begins to lose language skills. May withdraw from social interaction.
  • Loses sense of time. Doesn't know what day it is.
  • Has serious impairment of short-term memory. Has difficulty learning and remembering new information.
  • Becomes easily disoriented or lost in familiar places, sometimes for hours.
  • May have little or no awareness of cognitive problems.

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 15 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015