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Normal memory loss versus dementia


Memory loss is a normal part of aging. If a loved one can’t remember where they left their keys, the password for a website, or the name of a former classmate, it does not necessarily mean there is a problem. As long as there is no underlying medical condition, memory lapses such as these  may be signs of age-associated memory impairment and are perfectly normal. When memory loss is accompanied by disorientation, or when it affects someone’s daily life and normal routine, these may be signs of mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

Signs of age-associated memory impairment

Age-associated memory impairment refers to a situation where someone experiences memory loss that does not noticeably disrupt their daily life or interfere with their ability to complete tasks or learn and remember new things. Some typical signs of age-associated memory impairment include the following:

  • Inability to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago
  • Inability to remember the name of an acquaintance
  • Occasional forgetfulness about things and events
  • Occasional difficulty finding words
  • Memory worries even if relatives and friends are not concerned

Signs of mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment refers to a situation in which someone experiences memory loss and other symptoms such as difficulty speaking and disorientation, but they are not so severe that they interfere with their normal daily functions and routines. Some typical signs of mild cognitive impairment include the following:

  • Losing things more often
  • More frequent forgetfulness about things and events
  • More difficulty finding words

Mild cognitive impairment may place someone at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.11 

Signs of dementia

Dementia refers to a situation when memory loss is so severe that it affects someone’s daily life and normal routine. The person may find it difficult to learn new things and complete once familiar tasks, and others may notice changes as well. Some typical signs of dementia include the following:

  • Inability to recall details of recent events or conversations
  • Inability to recognize or know the names of family members
  • Frequent forgetfulness about things or events
  • Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words
  • Unawareness of any problems despite worries from relatives and friends

If you are concerned that a loved one is experiencing one or more of these signs of dementia, it is important to seek the advice of a qualified health professional.

External supporting content

National Institute on Aging: Memory, Forgetfulness and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

National Institute on Aging: Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer’s Disease

National Institute on Aging: What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?


NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
800-438-4380 (toll-free)


National Institute of Mental Health
866-615-6464 (toll-free)
866-415-8051 (TTY/toll-free)
www.nimh.nih.govEldercare Locator
800-677-1116 (toll-free)


  1. What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment? National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-mild-cognitive-impairment

“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

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