Memory and Aging

It’s normal for older adults to worry about their memory and thinking abilities. These changes are usually associated with mild forgetfulness – often a normal part of aging – and not a sign of a serious memory problem.

Know the Difference


Some normal signs of aging include:

  • Making a bad decision once in a while
  • Missing a monthly payment
  • Losing track of time
  • Not being able to find the right words
  • Losing things around the house

Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving and shopping. Signs may include:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Inability to follow instructions or directions
  • Becoming confused about time, people, and places
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If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of a serious memory problem, talk with a doctor to determine whether the memory and other cognitive problems are normal and to find out what may be causing them.

Your doctor may suggest a thorough checkup to see what might be causing the symptoms. Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition — the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember — improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which cannot be reversed.

Talking with your doctor to find the cause of the problem is an important first step to determining the best course of action.


Additional Information

Want to Learn More About Normal Aging?

Visit the National Institute on Aging's website to learn more about memory, forgetfulness, and aging.

Go to the National Institute on Aging