Does memory loss mean I have dementia?

Abigail Ryan, PhD

Memory loss does not necessarily mean you have dementia. Dementia means you have had a decline in cognitive functioning (which could be memory or other abilities like attention, problem-solving, etc.) that is severe enough to cause problems in your ability to do things independently, such as driving and paying bills. Memory loss can be caused by many things other than dementia. If the memory loss is consistently occurring, seems to be getting worse, or is interfering with your ability to function independently, talk to your doctor about whether memory testing would be recommended.

Occasionally losing your keys or forgetting someone’s name does not necessarily mean you are getting dementia. However, progressive memory problems and a decline in cognitive skills may be a warning signs—especially when combined with any of the risk factors for dementia.

Some of the more common risk factors include family history; untreated depression; obesity and diabetes; vascular disease; and unhealthy lifestyle habits such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking and substance abuse. 

Dr. David B. Reuben, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Having memory loss does not mean you have dementia. You may have what doctors call mild cognitive impairment. People with mild cognitive impairment often experience memory loss, but most other aspects of cognition will still be intact.

Mild cognitive impairment doesn’t affect people's general functioning. However, in some patients, it represents a transition state from normal aging to dementia.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.