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Is My Memory Loss Due to MS, Aging, or Something Else?

Is My Memory Loss Due to MS, Aging, or Something Else?

Faith of the Mustard Seed

My memory is spotty at times. I utter phrases like, “What was I looking for?” more often than I care to admit. I attribute my memory lapses to my multiple sclerosis (MS) brain lesions. But is my assumption accurate? What if it is age-related or something else. I question the origin of my memory loss because of something that my neurologist said when she examined my brain lesions on a scan. She commented that they were few and with their placement, I shouldn’t have any cognitive issues. But I do. So, I started to wonder: If it’s not MS, what is to blame for my memory issues?

The U.K.’s MS Trust estimates that approximately 50 percent of those with MS have cognitive issues which can be random and vary in severity. Memory difficulties in MS mostly involve poor recall of recent events or conversations or plans you’ve made.

My symptoms include a loss of words midsentence and difficulties holding onto a fleeting thought. I find it very frustrating to come up with an excellent idea for a column and then forget it before I write it down. The good news for you, according to the MS Trust, is that complete memory loss due to MS is rare. Memory function may worsen slowly over time or remain stable for years.

Join our MS forums: an online community especially for patients with Multiple Sclerosis.

As I mentioned, aging is another possible factor in forgetfulness. I am 62; not ancient, but old enough that cognitive decline due to aging could be relevant. The National Institute on Aging (NIH) states that “forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging.” Some people can find it more difficult to grasp new concepts, they may not retain information like they used to, or they could lose their keys more frequently.

The NIH also suggests other reasons for loss of memory such as, “medical conditions, emotional problems, mild cognitive impairment, or another type of dementia.” Medications and their side effects can also affect recall.

What can be done to improve our mental capacity? Suggestions from the MS Trust include:

  • Having a designated place for everyday items; for example, car keys or reading glasses.
  • Sticking to a routine to make it easier to plan your day.
  • Writing lists of tasks to do and appointments to keep.
  • Using alarms or phone apps to remind you of upcoming events.
  • Confirming appointments with others to help you to stay on track.

One trick I like to use is word associations. My husband had trouble remembering names. So for example, for someone named Marge, I would have him think of “Marge Simpson” when he saw her. It worked, but it could be a problem if he slipped up and called her “Marge Simpson.”

Knowing that there may be other reasons for some of my symptoms could open up more treatment options. But the reality is I may never find out the root cause of my memory lapses, and if I did, it’s possible that I may forget anyway.

Please join us in the MS forums to discuss this topic. You are invited to follow me on Instagram.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Debi is a retired admissions and marketing director residing in Oregon. She is a mother of three grown children and has three grandchildren. She was diagnosed with PPMS in 2010. With her column, “Faith of the Mustard Seed,” she hopes to help and inspire others who are also dealing with MS.
Debi is a retired admissions and marketing director residing in Oregon. She is a mother of three grown children and has three grandchildren. She was diagnosed with PPMS in 2010. With her column, “Faith of the Mustard Seed,” she hopes to help and inspire others who are also dealing with MS.
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  1. I have R&R MS since 1984, and there are day’s that I can see someone that I have recently met, and cannot for the life of me, remember their name or who they are, then remember them, a few minutes later with no problem. I can remember number combinations from 40 years ago, yet forget a phone number 10 seconds after hearing it; not all the time, it’s sporadic!

    • Ellen says:

      Sometimes it takes me longer to recall a name. If it is a famous name, I google it. Other names I find in my contacts book if I have a clue. I have a terrible time as a singer memorizing words to music. I’ve always had to work hard at memorizing lyrics but now it’s almost impossible. I am going to be 71 soon. My husband is 73 he does not have MS But I see he sometimes forgets where he puts his keys or forgets certain words he’s looking for which he never used to do. For better or for worse I take certain supplements that are supposed to be good for cognitive health. Hard to say if they work or not but The placebo effect is worth something something, I figure why not? It’s only a few pennies here in there. I’m glad to see this article because I wonder all the time is it MS or is it age related.

  2. Jeff Gregory says:

    Firstly, I am not a Multiple Sclerosis patient. Nevertheless, I began studying the disease state almost 40 years ago. I am 64 years old. My research started when living in Hollywood beginning in the late 70’s after meeting and becoming friends with David Lander (Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley). He is now 71 and in the late stages of MS. I have a friend these days diagnosed at 29, now 31. He has made the run through all latest greatest monoclonal antibodies and is doing well. Now having full access to the fully mapped human genome, I have discovered a way to communicate with the negative regulatory Lingo-1 protein and re-program it mathematically, thereby allowing the Li81 antibody to bind properly to form the FAB Complex. Wow. I apologize. I strayed. At 64, it is quite common for me to routinely forget the reason I walk into the kitchen. Names, on the tip of my tongue – can’t remember. In my home, everything is in it’s place. Grocery shopping – always a list (even 4 items). It is truly not unusual in our mid 60’s for one to experience short term memory loss to some degree. As far as Multiple Sclerosis – the MS patient community seems to increasingly impress me. You guy’s have what I would try to sum up very quickly as a certain wisdom about life which I have not begun to approach. I believe that every curse comes with a gift of equal balance and vice versa. I find myself reading your blogs hearing within your words that of not only wisdom, but hope. An ability to live within the moment, fight your daily battles – and win. I have a great amount of respect for the journey you are taking and along the way, the accomplishments. Thank you all for sharing your feelings on social media. I assure you that at least for myself, and I am sure there are many others, for having have read your stories, feel a bit wiser for the experience. I am grateful.

    • Debi Wilson says:

      Thank-you for sharing your story Jeff and for your kind words! MS warriors truly describes the strength and determination of the MS community! I am proud to be one of them! Best,Debi

      • sheila frank says:

        It seems that I have to share this with all of you. Diagnosed with M S 42 years ago. am 77 this year, Started guten free also 42 years ago on suggestion of cojuicer at juice bar. About 12 years ago I was an early user of Low Dose Naltrexone (3 mg in pm) . It gives a burst of endorphins 12 hours the next day that seem to override nerve pain and resistance. Go to the LDN TRUST to read about it, research into it and to order the LDN Book. It seems to help in all auto-immune conditions, RA etc. It can only be bought at a compounding pharmacy with a doctors prescription and may be covered by insurance. research it Only not to be taken with copaxone . Hope this helps many as it sure helps me.

  3. Hi All, I had a bad weekend Friday took the wrong cut off going to visit my friend in which I travel the same route for over 30 years. Saturday left back door open when I went out shopping and visiting another friend only to find out this when I returned.
    Sunday went to bed earlier than usual and spent most my night on the side of the bed in a lot of pain, then only to go down stairs in the morning to have tea before going to work and noticed i hadn’t too my medication before going to bed. So all and all NIGHTMARE

  4. Christine says:

    Grey matter atrophy can contribute substantially to cognitive impairment but grey matter is not yet easy to image. It is not really detectible on standard MRI.

  5. Karen says:

    I am 61 and was also worried about my forgetfulness…until I went away for a weekend with a good friend. I was the one who actually came up with the elusive word or two and remembered far more than she did. It made me feel “good” because it probably is simple aging and not MS. It has me wondering about the bladder issues, too, as well as some aspects of balance problems. At this point in life, it really is hard to distinguish between typical aging and MS problems. Regardless, I believe healthy eating and exercising the best we can is key to a much better quality of life for all of us.

    • Debi Wilson says:

      That is great that you felt better after spending time with your friend, Karen! There is such s fine line between what is aging and what is MS. It is good you were able to compare with others that don’t have MS. for sharing that and I agree with you about diet and exercise! Debi

  6. Mark Walker says:

    I had CCSVI when it first was talked about(2 stories in Telegraph Google: Telegraph, Mark Walker, MS, CCSVI). My brain fog lifted over the months after the Venoplasty and has not returned since then. MS ‘experts’ say CCSVI is rubbish but it solved memory problems for me! A friend with MS had the same experience as me with brain fog but we are both in wheelchairs so it is not the cause of MS. To me CCSVI is a treatable effect of MS. I am 60 years young this year.

  7. Suze H says:

    I am 60 something. When my friends and I have a conversation, we laugh. They are nonMS and lose words and thoughts “you know that thing that…” I know I am blessed because I participate in a research study and for years, it was the same list of objects. I’d go in and say last year, I kept on forgetting “squirrel.” Well, last year they changed that list entirely and I was PERFECT. In another repeating test, they wouldn’t tell me what I missed as they said I was sure to remember. It’s not all or always MS

  8. lorraine says:

    I was diagnosed in 1995! As I live with and understand more of the effects of Ms, I have found that doing word games and crossword puzzles really has helped me A LOT! Every day I do Mahjong and word games on line as part of my daily routine. I highly recommend it!

  9. Cynthia King says:

    I received an Amazon Alexa for Christmas, a wonderful gift but I thought it was overkill because my needs are minimal, but am pleasantly surprised. I have her programmed to remind me to do my exercises, take my meds, record random thoughts that fly soon out of my head. I also set reminders to put information like appointments in my calendar. When I’m on the phone and I don’t have a pen I can repeat things for her to remind me later.j

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