Exploring why "memory loss" is a misleading descriptor of people living with dementia and can lead to dysfunctional care

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Dementia (London, England)




alzheimer’s disease; dementia; implicit memory; malignant positioning and malignant social psychology; memory loss


Amidst goals for prevention and improved treatment for people living with dementia, much remains needed to enhance the quality of life of those currently diagnosed, especially the transfer of accurate information from professionals to the public. Although many healthcare professionals understand the various types of memory and which are likely to be more affected than others during the progression of dementia, lay persons are more frequently unaware of that important information. The terms used to describe the symptoms of dementia can have a great impact on perceptions of faculties that are absent, compromised, or preserved. Understanding the nuances of preserved memory faculties and other cognitive abilities retained by persons with dementia is important in this regard. The term "memory loss" as a descriptor of the syndrome of dementia and ascribing it to persons with dementia connotes an inability to form new memories and participate in meaningful social interactions, which is detrimental to their personhood. From a multidisciplinary approach drawn from neurology, neurobiology, psychology, and case vignettes, we aim herein to highlight the ways in which the term "memory loss" can be inaccurate, counterproductive and potentially promote dementia-related misperceptions, malignant positioning and malignant social psychology. Persons with dementia unequivocally struggle with explicit memory, or recalling on demand, but retain implicit memory, as evidenced by research and everyday actions. Therefore, we propose the use of alternative medical language to reflect accurately memory impairment and preservation of some important memory capabilities.


Clinical Research and Leadership