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Memory and cognition

Memory and cognition means how you learn, understand and remember things.

As you age, the brain changes and some things become harder, such as concentrating and remembering. Other brain functions become easier, such as having the ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ in situations.

Memory and cognition issues can be influenced by things such as stress, illness, mental health conditions, medicines, reduced hearing or vision, or the onset of dementia.

Having a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference.

Learn more about memory and cognition and dementia, plus practical ways to maintain your memory and take care of yourself.

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How memory and cognition change with age

Your brain changes as you age, which can make it harder to do things you used to do. For example, you may find it harder to learn new things, focus on more than one thing at a time or recall information. Reduced hearing or vision can also affect your memory.


Dementia is a group of diseases that affect your thinking, memory and behaviour, and the ability to do daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Anyone can get dementia, but it is more common after the age of 65.
It may be hard to notice early signs of dementia, but common symptoms include memory loss, misplacing things, confusion about time or place and trouble understanding surroundings, objects or people.

Read more about dementia and how to reduce your risk.

Dementia checks

If you are concerned about changes in your memory or abilities, see your doctor as early as possible. They will ask about your medical history and symptoms, and do more tests if needed.

Visit the Dementia Australia website to learn what you can do if you’re worried about your memory.

Managing anxiety about dementia

It’s normal to worry about dementia and memory loss as you age, but memory changes might not be caused by dementia. And just because a family member has dementia, doesn’t mean you will get it.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may have early signs of dementia, see your doctor. They will connect you to the right specialists and support services.

Learn how to tell if it’s midlife brain fog or early onset dementia.

What you can do

Research shows that doing different types of activities helps to reduce the risk of dementia. For example, you can:

  • stay in touch with friends and family
  • volunteer
  • do physical activities
  • stay mentally active by reading books or doing puzzles, crosswords and crafts.

It’s also important to be physically healthy. For example, you can:

  • eat a balanced diet
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • avoid or stop drinking alcohol
  • quit smoking
  • have regular hearing and vision checks.

Learn about boosting your brain health with a rainbow diet.

Tips for remembering things

You can use memory aids to organise, record and remember important information. For example, calendars, diaries, journals, shopping lists, sticky notes and electric reminders on your phone and other devices. You can also colour-code your keys for different locks and ask your pharmacist to set up a pill case so you remember to take important medicines.

Be kind to yourself

It’s important to be kind to yourself. Relax and take your time when you need to remember things. And don’t be hard on yourself if you forget something. If you forget someone’s name, it’s okay to let them know you’ve forgotten and ask again. Focus on things you can do to help maintain your memory.

When to see your doctor

If you are worried about things like memory changes or difficulty with daily activities, see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a geriatrician, neurologist or memory clinic for a formal assessment. It’s normal to feel anxious about the assessment, but the earlier you find the cause, the earlier you can get the support you need.

Visit the Dementia Australia website to learn more about diagnosing dementia.

More resources

Read or download our:

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

Wu Z, Pandigama DH, Wrigglesworth J, et al. Lifestyle Enrichment in Later Life and Its Association With Dementia Risk. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(7):e2323690. Published 2023 Jul 3. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.23690
Last updated: 
18 June 2024
Last reviewed: 
02 February 2024

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