How do people experience memory loss?

Read about how memory loss affects people with dementia and what the symptoms are.

People with dementia will often experience difficulties with their memory, which interfere with their day-to day activities.

This memory loss is often due to damage in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which plays a very important role in day-to-day memory. Damage to different parts of the brain will affect different kinds of memory. 

Find out more about how dementia affects the brain

While memory loss affects everyone differently, many people with dementia experience problems with the following:

  • forgetting recent conversations or events
  • struggling to find the right word in a conversation or forgetting names of people and objects
  • losing or misplacing items (such as keys or glasses) around the house
  • struggling with familiar tasks, such as making a cup of tea
  • forgetting appointments or anniversaries
  • taking medication (for example not remembering whether a regular dose has been taken)
  • getting lost in familiar surroundings (such as the neighbourhood they live in) or on familiar journeys (for example to the shops)
  • recognising faces (even of those closest to them).

As the person’s dementia progresses, their memory will get worse. In the early stages, the person’s long-term memory is often less affected. This is probably because older memories – which are thought about more often – become more firmly established and are more likely to be recalled than newer memories.

Memory and emotions

Memory also has an emotional aspect. Emotions influence what and how a person remembers and some memories can make the person feel a certain way. Memories can often be triggered by just one part of the memory, such as music or smell. People’s emotional memory is affected much later on in dementia. Before this happens, people can often remember how they felt about something, even if they can’t recall other details about it. For example, a person with dementia may not remember where or when they went on holiday, but they will remember how they felt when they were there.

There are some things that people with dementia may be able to recall for longer. These include:

  • things that happened long ago, especially in late adolescence or early adulthood
  • things that have been done many times, such as a route to school or work
  • things that have been rehearsed and practised over and over again, such as playing a musical instrument or dance steps
  • events or dates that made people feel strong emotions (for example births or marriage, or dates like 11 September 2001 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy).
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