Memory Problems

What is memory?

People often talk about memory as if it was a single function, but there are different types of memory:

• Long-term memory (e.g. memories of your childhood)
• Short-term memory (e.g. remembering the content of a conversation a minute ago)
• Visual memory (e.g. being able to remember a pattern or picture)
• Verbal memory (e.g. being able to remember a short story)

There are also different processes that go on as part of us remembering things:

  • encoding, where the information is taken in
  • storage, where the information is stored until it is needed and
  • retrieval, when the information is recalled

What affects our memory?

Memory is affected by many things:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Normal ageing
  • Illness & Disease

For example, when we are stressed or anxious we may not pay as much attention to things as we normally would.  This affects the encoding part of the memory process.  It is very common for people who are stressed or who are depressed to find that their memory seems less good. Things usually improve as they become less stressed or less depressed - that is the memory problems are not permanent.

Sometimes however memory problems can be due to physical changes, such as with dementia, or through injury such as acquired brain injury

Memory assessment

If your GP or other healthcare practitioner thinks it is necessary, then you may receive a formal assessment of your memory.   As part of this, you may see a psychologist. The psychologist may ask you to do some tasks to see how your memory is and how different areas of your brain are functioning.  They will also assess your general health and well-being, for example, to see whether depression or stress might be having an effect. 

Coping with memory problems

Memory problems may be temporary or permanent. 

If your memory problems are due to e.g. stress, anxiety or depression, then they are likely to be temporary.  Most people find that they improve as they work on overcoming or managing their stress, anxiety or depression.  

However, there are things that can help in the meantime - such as writing lists, using an appointment diary, not getting cross with yourself if you can't recall something immediately.  See the Moodcafe section on feeling low, anxious and stressed for advice.

If your memory problems are due to some permanent changes then learning ways to cope can make life easier.

Making life easier

Many kinds of aids and adaptations can be used. This is not 'cheating'. It is important to make use of anything that will help, including the following:

  • Using memory aids
  • Adapting your surroundings
  • Following a set routine
  • Improving your general well-being


For more information about coping with memory problems see our  Self help guide - Coping with Memory Problems