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Later Life Guide

Forgetfulness? Or Memory Loss?

Ways to tell the difference between simple forgetting and more worrisome conditions (and more):


If you're concerned about possibly losing mental abilities, the good news is that exercising the brain offers some protection against memory loss of cognitive decline. Word or logic puzzles (crosswords, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles) and other activities help; and playing cards or board games, taking a class, or getting involved in a new hobby has the added benefit of being social, too.

And don't forget the value of physical exercise on the brain, too!

Some Causes of Memory Loss That Aren't Dementia

If you suspect more than simple forgetfulness, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that it's early dementia. Several other factors can influence memory loss. Talk to your health care team if any of the common complications described in these websites seems likely:

Stress, depression, and anxiety also effect memory (and worrying about losing memory can add to the stress!). Take a look at the section on Depression and Loss in this guide to learn more about how those can connect to memory and cognition. Also lso see the section on mental health on PlaneTree Health Library's Health Links pages.

Many women have more problems with focusing or remembering things, just before and during menopause. (Good news - many women find this gets better after menopause.)


Blood glucose levels that are either too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia) have been implicated in memory loss. While having high blood glucose levels over a period of time can lead to problems of memory and brain function, a confused mental state is one sign of hypoglycemia. If so, it needs attention fast.


Nerve damage caused by pernicious anemia or vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause memory loss or mental effects.


Some surprisingly common medications can cause memory problems. (Also see the links about medications that have depression as a side effect in the section for Depression.)

Chemotherapy's mental side effects are so well-known that they're nicknamed "chemo brain".

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