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Later Life Guide

Health issues and concerns of older adults - and how to cope

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 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, sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety also effect memory. (And worrying about losing memory can add to the stress!) 

Take a look at the sections on Depression, Grief and Loneliness and on Issues with Sleep in this guide to learn more about how those can connect to memory and cognition. 


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".

What Happens After a Diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer's?

If your healthcare team has made a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer's or one of the other forms of dementia, now what? There are as many answers to that question as people with this condition; everyone's experience is unique, and will change over time as their disease progresses. Some people can continue to live independently for awhile.

Once there is a diagnosis of some form of dementia, it's time to plan. Check out the resources linked in our Caregiving Resources guide and our Later Life Planning guide (particularly the Special Considerations - Cognitive or Memory Issues box) for tips and tools. Be sure to include managing  financial tasks as part of those plans, especially when financial issues are often among the earliest signs of dementia.


​Be sure to discuss information gathered from these resources with your health care providers to see if it is relevant to your individual situation. Health and medical information accessed through these websites is not intended to substitute for or to replace the advice or instruction of a health care professional. 

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