You can’t find your keys, or perhaps you forgot an appointment. For many people in middle age or older, simple acts of forgetfulness like these are scary because they raise the specter of Alzheimer’s disease.

But Alzheimer’s is not the only health problem that can lead to forgetfulness, says the National Institute on Aging. Memory lapses can happen at any age and for a number of reasons. And when the underlying cause is treated, the memory problems often improve as well.

“Patients might experience memory loss and describe their symptoms similarly, but a doctor can tease apart what parts of the brain are affected,” says Seth Gale, MD, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“When you drill down and find out what’s actually happening with someone’s mental functions, you can reassure them. For example, it’s common for people to still have the capacity to learn and store information, but because of their overloaded mental resources at this time of their life, they have trouble doing it well,” Dr. Gale says.

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