Causes of Memory Loss and When To Seek A Doctor

Why is my memory bad?

Several things can cause problems with your memory, including stress, anxiety and depression. Talk to a GP if memory problems are affecting your day-to-day life.

Everyone can forget things from time to time, and this is usually normal. But if memory problems are affecting your everyday life, it’s best to see a GP.

Becoming more forgetful does not mean that you have dementia. Some people can remember things better than others.

Many of the causes of memory problems can get better with the right support and treatment. This page explains some of the most common causes of memory loss. 

Is it dementia, or am I just getting older?

People often start to forget things more as they get older. If you notice you’re getting more forgetful and are concerned, you should speak to a GP.

See our information on how the normal signs of getting older are different from dementia symptoms.

How can other health conditions affect my memory?

Memory loss can be a symptom of many health conditions. Common conditions that cause forgetfulness are: 

  • depression or anxiety
  • chest and urinary tract infections 
  • thyroid problems 
  • menopause
  • vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin B12
  • head injuries.

If your memory loss is being caused by a treatable health condition, it can improve with the right support. Talking to your GP can help you get the treatment you need to feel better. 

There are also conditions that cause symptoms similar to dementia, but have different causes and require different support. These are:

  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This condition causes minor problems with memory or thinking. Unlike dementia, the symptoms are not severe enough to cause problems with a person’s daily life. Many people with MCI can manage their symptoms and do not go on to develop dementia. 
  • Functional cognitive disorder (FCD). This causes problems with thinking and memory. Unlike dementia, FCD symptoms are unlikely to keep getting worse over time. They can even get better with the right support. For more information about FCD, also known as FND, visit: www.neurosymptoms.org

What else can cause memory problems?

Some memory problems can be a result of:

  • stress. Being stressed or overwhelmed can make it harder to focus, think clearly, and learn new information. This can make it difficult for us to form new memories and remember them later. 
  • sleep problems. Getting enough sleep allows our brains to process information from the day and store new memories. 
  • consuming too much alcohol. You may not fully remember everything that happened while you were drinking a lot of alcohol. This is temporary. If you regularly binge-drink over several years, this can lead to alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD).
  • medication side effects. Some medicines can significantly affect your ability to think and remember clearly.

The NHS website has more information on how stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems can cause memory loss. 

I find it difficult to take in information. Is this a problem with my memory?

Sometimes it can appear to others that you are not remembering things well, but the problem may be with your attention, processing, or understanding of the information instead. You might be having:

  • problems with attention. If you are not able to focus on a task you may not be able to keep information in your mind. You may seem to forget, but you actually have lost focus.
  • problems with eyesight or hearing. If you are not able to see or hear properly, you may not be taking in information from the world around you. It may appear that you forgot something that someone said to you, but you may not have heard them properly in the first place, so it will not have been stored in your memory.

Why is memory loss a sign of dementia?

Memory loss is a common early sign of dementia. This is because it is caused by diseases that damage the brain. This damage often affects areas of the brain involved in creating new memories and remembering older ones.

The thought of being told you have dementia is frightening. It can be difficult to talk to other people about your symptoms and how you’re feeling. But doing this will help to get answers and any support you need.