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Introduction to Memory Problems

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 23rd 2016

Memory problems are common. Everyone's memory can fail them at one time or another. Have you ever: forgotten the name of someone you just met; been unable to put a name to the face of a neighbor you saw at the movies; failed to get the one item you actually went to the market to buy; forgotten your new phone number at work; missed the birthday of someone for whom you already bought a card; forgotten where you parked the car at the mall; missed a Doctor's appointment; or forgotten to take the 8 pm dose of medication? Don't feel too bad -  you're not alone.

serious older manMemory occurs in the brain, but it is not limited by the brain. Many things around us influence our ability to make and retrieve memories. Physiological, emotional, social, and environmental processes, as well as by cognitive processes other than memory per se (e.g., perception, reasoning, decision making), are now accepted as affecting memory functioning in everyday life. Physiologically, memory is affected by fatigue, nutrition, and common illnesses; a variety of medicines for various conditions can impair memory. Emotionally, memory varies with a person's attitude, mood, motivation, and upsets. Socially, group pressures and the prejudices of others can interfere with memory performance. Environmentally, the things around us stimulate memory; because of this fact, products are sold to help us remember (such as calendars, organizers and palm pilots).

There are things you can do to improve your memory. Through practice of mental and other activities, a variety of efforts can be made to lessen memory problems.

  • Improving your sleep habits can help the physiological side of memory
  • Relaxation exercises can calm you down and at the same time improve your memory performance
  • Practicing conversational and name/face recognition skills can help to lessen social anxiety that can interfere with remembering names.
  • Organizing your environment and personal effects can help you to remember where things are located.
  • An alarm system (such as on a smartphone or tablet) can alert you to appointments and chores that would otherwise be forgotten, or remind you to take medication.

These and other similar simple activities can be helpful in addressing mild to moderate memory problems. Such techniques have been used to assist people with memory difficulties caused by a variety of different circumstances, including cardiovascular illness, head injury, age-related memory disorders, and even students seeking to learn more in their college courses. Use this center to help you learn more about how memory works, and how you can get help for your memory problems.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Longterm Memory Loss - Michael - Sep 15th 2012

I have always thought of myself to have a decent memory. Now im realising that I have forgotton alot in my life and not realised i had because i never had to remember them. Its scary thinking about how you dont know you forgot because you forgot something. I used to drink heavely and one night I took a spill forward and bashed my head on the sidewalk extreamly hard, thats all i remember from that night. That is probly where my memory loss came from. Yet I still function like i used to, no brain damage. (or maybe i do have brain damage and just dont know that i do because i forgot that i do). It seems to be getting worse at every waking day, and it probly dosnt help that i take Dyphinhydramine regulerly because i have mild insomnia. I know theres a way to unlock more of my brain capacity, (one trick that helps me is to hold your right hand out and point to your left then hold your left hand out and point to your right. Then touch the tips of your index fingers together. Then spin your right hand away from you clockwise at the same time spining your left hand twords you counter clockwise. it is very hard to do because you have to use both sides of your brain at the same time. It helps with memory cause it unlocks unused parts of your brain), Its just a matter of how.

Have little to no memory - Linda - Apr 25th 2012

I think I have some sort of amnesia. My memory has always been so bad but never bothered me before until now. I'm connecting with people from my past on Facebook and they remember coming to my house hanging out with me and things we did but, I can't even remember the person, never mind that she was my best friend in school. Is there anyone out there that can help me?

Memory Problem - Mukhtar MSD - Sep 22nd 2011

My memory is not good and also lack of Concetration. I can not remember all things. Please advise me. Thanking you.

memory looseness - gourav kumar - Jul 5th 2011
from year 7 to year 9 (13 to 15) I was doing great in class and remembering the majority of what i learned, but at around the age of 16, I slowly became more and more forgetful of most things, I'm 19 now and just started University, and I'm having alot of difficulty remembering anything in any of my classes, and It's almost as if every day i have to learn from scratch...

need suggestions - Tammie Cusimano - Jun 24th 2011

Can you recommend things that wil remind the person that they need to do things,She will not do anything we ask. help 

More than just "Forgetting apptmnts" - Stacy - Jun 1st 2011

im 26, mother, and on medications for depression, ADHD, seizures (lexepro, concerta, adderal, gabapentin, effexor)

I have stress of course, single mother, job change, daily recovery from addiction, lack of appetite etc. but yesterday, I missed an IMPORTANT required drug test. (call daily and if color is called, test that day). I have to write down EVERYthing I do in my agenda book because I can forget what I did yesterday.

I knew I had to test, after son was picked up from gma I was doing school work till I had to go in to test, but after getting ready like every tuesday and going to my normal meeting, I get home last night and (for the 4th time in 5 months) it DAWNS on me as im laying in bed that I forgot to test! Now, this is a priority and I treat it as one, but this is more than just forgetting something or slacking off... WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!! please help!!

Academically Disfunctional - - Mar 29th 2011

from year 7 to year 9 (13 to 15) I was doing great in class and remembering the majority of what i learned, but at around the age of 16, I slowly became more and more forgetful of most things, I'm 19 now and just started University, and I'm having alot of difficulty remembering anything in any of my classes, and It's almost as if every day i have to learn from scratch...

TO Foregetfull - - Dec 17th 2010

What kind of memory trouble are you having?  My parents have always criticized me for forgetting events and conversations, but I can still remember things like facts that I have read.  There are different types of memory, and maybe your trouble is in one type but not another?  It may help to recognize the kind of memory you have trouble with and do exercises to help you develop it.  For example, you could keep a journal of each day and test yourself to see how much you can remember from what you experienced and wrote down.  Sometimes even the act of writing something down is enough to help strengthen the memory or turn it into a different type of memory.

Foregetfull - - Dec 8th 2010

Ok so I'm a 14 and it seems that I forget everything. Like I can barely remeber what happened the day before. Im not sure what to do. It gets confusing and annoying. Then Im scared to tell my mom. I am stressed but its never affacted me before. I'm going to try some stress techniques and see if they work. I think this is heplful.

Good information - Chinelo - Jun 9th 2010

Excellent information. Please keep it up.

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