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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of memory loss, mild cognitive impairment & dementia

Tirohanga whānui ki te warewarenga, āta hauātanga ā-hinengaro me mate korongenge

Forgetfulness and memory loss are common in people of all ages.

Some forgetfulness is normal among older people and generally is not a cause for any alarm. When it starts to affect your daily life in areas such as work, hobbies, relationships and social activities, it may be a concern, as these could be early signs of dementia.

Symptoms of memory loss

Normal age-related memory changes may include occasionally misplacing things such as your keys or glasses or walking into the kitchen and forgetting what you went in for. They can also include forgetting someone's name or having trouble remembering what you've just read or details of a conversation.

Mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is when your memory or mental functions such as language, thinking and judgement get worse but aren't enough of a problem to affect your day-to-day life and activities.

Symptoms of MCI may include often misplacing or losing things, having difficulty following conversations or frequently forgetting conversations, appointments or events.

MCI is the stage between normal age-related memory loss and the more serious symptoms of dementia. You, your family or close friends will be aware of this decline in your memory. But unlike people who have advanced dementia, you can still be independent in your daily life.

If you have MCI, you have an increased risk of developing dementia, especially if your main difficulty is with your memory. The greater your level of memory impairment, the greater your risk of developing dementia. But some people with mild cognitive impairment do not get worse and a few eventually return to normal.

If you have MCI, it's important to see your general practice team every year. You can reduce your risk of developing dementia by eating well, staying active, keeping up with your friends and family and continuing to do the things you enjoy.


Dementia is a general term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disease affecting the brain. A common symptom is memory loss, which may cause difficulties with language, understanding and reasoning.

Dementia can also cause difficulties with the way you relate to other people, changes in your physical abilities such as walking and changes in your mood and emotions.

If you have dementia, these problems affect your ability to do day-to-day tasks and interfere with your daily life.

Managing memory loss & dementia

There are several things you can do to make your life easier and help your memory. These include healthy lifestyle choices that may prevent your memory loss getting worse.

If you're diagnosed with dementia, you can get information and support through Dementia Canterbury.

While there is no cure for dementia, there are some medications called cholinesterase inhibitors that may boost the brain and reduce symptoms in some people.

Preventing memory loss & dementia

While getting older is the biggest risk factor for getting dementia, there are several things you can do to stay well as you age:

On the next page: Dementia

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2022.

See also:

Supporting someone with dementia


Page reference: 555671

Review key: HIMLD-33325