Why can’t I remember things easily anymore?

As we get older, it’s normal for our memory and thinking skills to change. Often, these changes are subtle and gradual. But for some people, memory loss is more noticeable and begins to affect day-to-day activities. If you’ve noticed that your memory isn’t quite as good as it used to be, there are likely several reasons why.

Normal Age-Related Memory Changes

Some amount of memory trouble, especially with short-term memory, is normal as people get older. It may take longer to learn new things or remember familiar words. Reasons for this include:

  • Slower information processing – As we age, the brain processes information more slowly, making it harder to recall facts quickly.
  • Decreased attention – It’s harder to focus and stay on task, making it easier to forget things.
  • Multitasking challenges – Juggling multiple tasks at once becomes more challenging, increasing forgetfulness.
  • Less effective encoding – New information is not encoded into memory as effectively as when younger.

In addition, normal changes in sleep patterns and decreased hormone levels can impair memory. The hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory formation, shrinks slightly with aging. These natural brain changes make forming and recalling memories more difficult.

Stress and Depression

Chronic stress and depression, which become more common in later life, can also negatively impact memory function. Stress hormones released in the brain over long periods can damage parts of the brain involved in memory storage and processing. Additionally, depression and excessive stress make it hard to concentrate, further hampering memory abilities. Treating sources of stress and depression can improve memory difficulties in some cases.

Poor Sleep

Getting adequate deep sleep is crucial for memory consolidation and retention. As we age, sleep patterns naturally change, with less time spent in the deepest stages of sleep. Interruptions like frequent waking or sleep disorders can further reduce sleep quality. Insufficient sleep hampers the brain’s ability to solidify and store memories properly. Focusing on improving sleep hygiene by sticking to a schedule, limiting naps, and reducing nighttime disruptions can aid memory.


Staying mentally and physically active helps keep the brain healthy and prevent memory loss. When the brain is not challenged regularly, cognitive skills decline over time. Things like doing puzzles, learning new skills, reading, and participating in social activities stimulate the brain and may benefit memory. Regular physical activity also promotes blood flow to the brain. Aerobic exercise, even just walking, can improve memory function in older adults.


Many common prescription and over-the-counter medications have side effects that impact memory and thinking. These include medications for anxiety, depression, pain, allergies, hypertension, and sleep problems. The more medications someone takes, the higher their risk of impairment. Checking with a doctor or pharmacist to review medications and possible alternatives can help reduce this effect.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Deficiencies in certain vitamins and nutrients are linked to memory problems. Lower levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folate are associated with cognitive difficulties in older adults. Ensuring adequate intake of these vitamins through diet, supplementation, and recommended blood testing may help optimize brain health.

Hearing Loss

When hearing diminishes with age, it can significantly impact memory function. Hearing loss makes it harder to understand and pay attention during conversations, which are key for forming memories. Additionally, decreased hearing ability often leads to greater social isolation, which further worsens memory skills. Treating hearing loss with hearing aids can help improve memory abilities.

Thyroid Problems

The thyroid gland regulates hormone levels that influence many body functions, including memory and cognition. Both underactive (hypothyroidism) and overactive (hyperthyroidism) thyroids are more common in older adults and linked to memory impairment. Getting thyroid levels tested and treated can resolve these symptoms in many cases.

Alcohol Abuse

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage. Alcohol toxicity damages and kills brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus. Even in smaller amounts, alcohol abuse impacts memory by reducing vitamin absorption, disrupting sleep, and interacting with medications. Reducing heavy, long-term alcohol use can help improve memory deficits.

Neurocognitive Disorders

Serious memory problems that disrupt daily functioning may be caused by neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. These conditions damage areas of the brain needed for memory formation and retrieval. While memory loss is expected with normal aging, severe or progressive memory deficits require medical evaluation to identify any underlying disorders.

Tips to Improve Memory

While some memory change is inevitable, many strategies can help boost memory at any age:

  • Get organized – Use calendars, to-do lists, notes and other memory aids.
  • Develop routines – Follow daily schedules for frequently repeated tasks.
  • Minimize distractions – Reduce multitasking and background noises when learning new info.
  • Repeat new information – Verbally repeat or write down new things to reinforce memory.
  • Relate new facts to existing knowledge – Link new ideas to what you already know.
  • Visualize concepts – Form mental pictures of people, places and things to remember.
  • Stay focused – Give your full attention when introduced to new people or information.
  • Exercise regularly – Even light activity boosts blood flow to the brain.
  • Get quality sleep – Aim for 7-9 hours per night and treat any sleep disorders.
  • Manage stress – Try relaxation techniques and get support for excessive anxiety.
  • Stay social – Interact regularly with people to keep the brain engaged.
  • Challenge your mind – Learn new skills, do puzzles and engage in hobbies.

When to Seek Help

Occasional lapses in memory are generally not cause for concern. However, see a doctor if you experience:

  • Progressive memory loss that steadily worsens
  • Difficulty performing familiar daily activities
  • Problems understanding conversations or directions
  • Forgetting how to do basic things like preparing meals
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repeatly forgetting appointments, family occasions or holidays
  • Misplacing items more frequently
  • Increasing reliance on memory aids like reminder notes
  • Personality or behavior changes along with memory loss

Evaluation by a doctor can identify if memory changes may be due to an underlying medical condition that requires specific treatment, like vitamin deficiencies, medications, thyroid dysfunction, depression, or Alzheimer’s disease. Even if not reversable, early diagnosis allows people to plan for the future and seek support services.

When Memory Loss Indicates Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of severe memory loss and confusion in older adults. It accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Symptoms that suggest possible dementia include:

  • Progressive difficulty remembering recent events and conversations
  • Apathy and depression
  • Impaired ability to plan, organize, and problem solve
  • Confusion about time, place, or people
  • Changes in personality and behavior
  • Difficulty completing familiar actions like cooking, driving, or finances
  • Problems understanding visual information
  • Disorientation getting lost or misplacing possessions
  • Poor judgment leading to safety issues like falls or accidents

Dementia symptoms are chronic, generally worsen over time, and significantly disrupt daily activities and independence. While memory loss is a key sign, dementia also affects attention, language, reasoning, and visual perception. Seeking medical advice for a thorough evaluation is crucial if ongoing memory and thinking problems are suspected.

Coping with Memory Loss

Being diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease is understandably upsetting. But there are many ways to manage memory loss and maintain a meaningful quality of life despite changes in memory and thinking abilities:

  • Stay mentally and socially active – Keeping the brain challenged may help preserve cognitive skills longer. Pursue hobbies, do puzzles, read, and participate in clubs or groups.
  • Simplify routines – Break tasks like cooking or yardwork into smaller, more manageable steps to reduce memory demands.
  • Use memory aids – Post reminders, make to-do lists, set phone alerts, place commonly misplaced items in the same spot.
  • Repeat information – Ask people to rephrase or write down key information you need to recall.
  • Manage stress – Relaxation techniques, social support, and professional help can reduce anxiety.
  • Get organized – Put appointments, medications, and valuables in the same designated places.
  • Exercise – Physical activity, even just brief walks, benefits brain health and memory.
  • Eat brain-healthy foods – Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats.
  • Stay connected – Surround yourself with supportive family and friends.
  • Seek engaging activities – Find purpose and enjoyment in activities matched to your abilities.

While difficult, focusing on remaining strengths and abilities can help cope with the challenges of memory loss conditions.

Supporting a Loved One with Memory Loss

Helping care for a spouse, parent, or friend with dementia poses many challenges as their memory and abilities decline. But there are effective ways you can provide support while coping with the changes in your relationship:

  • Educate yourself about their condition to better understand their experiences.
  • Engage in structured, pleasant activities with them that reduce stress on their memory.
  • Offer gentle reminders and prompts when they seem confused or forgetful.
  • Repeat questions or information if needed, but avoid quizzing them.
  • Be patient when communicating, give them time to respond and process.
  • Focus conversations on pleasant topics from their past rather than the present.
  • Reassure them with empathy when they cannot recall or express something.
  • Reduce distractions and follow consistent daily routines to ease confusion.
  • Involve them in safe, familiar activities that match their abilities.
  • Take breaks as needed from caregiving demands and stress.

Even as memory deteriorates, connecting with the person in meaningful ways and focusing on their feelings, rather than facts, can maintain a valuable relationship.


Memory changes are a normal part of aging, but significant impairment can be concerning and disruptive to daily life. By understanding common causes of memory difficulties and pursuing lifestyle changes, medical treatment, memory aids, support services, and coping strategies, it is possible to manage memory loss and live well despite cognitive changes.

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