When To Take A Memory Test And Why

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It is natural to worry about your memory, especially as you get older.  As we age, human memory gets weaker by nature, but many health disorders can cause more extensive memory loss. If you find yourself becoming more forgetful, you might want to do a memory quiz to assess your symptoms and help you decide if you need to seek additional support.

There are several different types of memory that we use to store information. The three most broad categories of memory are short-term, long-term, and photographic memory. For many people, short-term memory, or working memory, is the first to become problematic. However, you may also discover problems with long-term memory or photographic memory which may negatively affect your life, especially if your memory problems have been present for some time.

Importance of memory

Memory function is important in each of its multiple forms. Long-term memory allows you to recall important people, including family members, and dates in your life, for example. Without your long-term memories, you may lose a bit of your past. It may even feel as if you’re losing some of your identity. Long-term memory is also responsible for the performance of some cognitive tasks.

Short-term memory might be even more important for many people. Without good short-term memory, you may discover that you have a very hard time functioning. A loss of working memory may mean that you frequently forget what you are doing from moment to moment, whether you have eaten that day, or important appointments.

It is common for people to lose their memory to an extent as they age. However, if you start noticing significant problems, you may want to seek out memory tests to assess the issue. In some cases, you might need to seek out additional professional help as well. Clinical trials are constantly being conducted to learn new ways to treat patients with memory loss; your primary doctor may be able to help you design a treatment plan that’s right for you.

It is important that you approach and attempt to resolve or treat any memory problems as quickly as possible as many memory problems can be treated more quickly with early detection.

When do you need a test for your memory?

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Don’t let memory worries affect your wellbeing

Because some minimal memory loss is normal over time, it can be difficult to know when you should be concerned. Still, it may be a good idea to do a memory test any time you are questioning the strength of your memory, regardless of the type of memory you are having problems with.

There is no reason not to test your memory if you are becoming concerned. Testing your memory at home can be an easy way to put your mind at ease. There are many memory tests available online through reputable sources, and it may be beneficial to seek a free test first.  

If the test results show that your memory is normal, you'll feel much better. If it reveals that you may be having problems, you can then take further action to address the issue.

Short-term memory

Short-term memory is often the first type of memory that people have problems with as they age. Short-term memory is responsible for being able to remember appointments, remember daily activities, and be able to find necessary objects. You use your short-term memory frequently throughout the day, sometimes in ways that you may not even recognize.


There are several symptoms to watch for when considering possible short-term memory loss. Occasionally forgetting where you put your keys when they are actually in your hand could be concerning, or it could simply be a normal glitch in your memory. Unless these things happen frequently, they are likely not of concern. However, some other symptoms can warrant attention. These symptoms include:

  • Repeating yourself frequently, or being unable to follow a conversation
  • Frequently being unable to remember if you have eaten a meal or taken medication
  • Being unable to recall whether you performed an important task
  • Frequently forgetting what you are doing from moment to moment

The key is that these symptoms must be frequent to be considered a real problem for concern. Many people have odd moments here and there when they might not remember something. However, if it happens frequently and is interfering with your ability to function on a daily basis, you probably want to do a test for memory.

Why it's important

A short-term test is important because it helps you determine if your glitches in memory are a normal part of aging or a symptom of a larger medical condition. The extent of your memory loss can be an indicator of debilitating disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or a simple and temporary cause such as stress or trouble getting enough sleep. Often short-term memory loss is the first sign of Alzheimer's; a short-term memory test may help catch the disease early. In one test called the Digit Span Memory Test, individuals will try rapidly screening larger numbers and seeing how many numbers they can remember. The more numbers you can remember, the better your working memory. For many, hitting at least seven numbers is the goal of this short-term memory test.

Photographic memory

When most people think of photographic memory, they think of that elite group of people who can recall anything they've ever seen. However, everyone has a bit of photographic memory. This type of memory enables you to remember something you have seen before. For some people, a photographic memory might last for days or weeks. For others, it might last only for a few hours.



If you have previously had a very good photographic memory but have noticed a notable decline, you might need to consider some memory tests. Many people notice a natural decline in their ability to remember things from sight as they age. However, if you notice that there is a severe or sudden decline in your ability to recall images, there may be cause for concern.

Why it's important

Being able to remember things that you have seen can be very helpful throughout your daily life. For example, it is much easier to remember where you have placed your keys if you have a photographic memory of seeing them in a particular place. Also, a sudden decline in eidetic memory can be a sign of certain medical conditions.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory is responsible for much more than simply remembering past events. Your long-term memory is responsible for remembering who the people are in your life, how to do things you've almost always been able to do, and facts about the world around you. Without long-term memory, you would have a very difficult time functioning independently in the world.


As you age, it is natural to begin to have difficulty recalling certain things from your long-term memory. You might be recounting an event from your past to someone and suddenly be unable to remember a certain detail such as who was present, for instance. Momentary lapses like these are normal from time to time. However, when these instances become frequent, it could be cause for concern.

Some of the more concerning symptoms that would require a test include:

  • Being unable to recall a common word when speaking
  • Being unable to recall events that were important
  • Being unable to perform or slow to perform common tasks such as following a recipe
  • Being unable to navigate in a familiar area, such as getting lost on your way through a common route
  • Being unable to recall or slow to recall the name or face of a person you see frequently, such as family members you often spend time with

While it is common to have certain issues with long-term memory recall as you age, these symptoms can become quite severe. If you have any concerns at all about whether your memory lapses are normal or cause for concern, a test could be worthwhile.

Why it's important

Losing your long-term memory is about more than just the inconvenience of losing explicit memory and not being able to remember a name or date. When you begin to have long-term memory problems, you may have difficulty performing tasks that you had previously been able to do without even thinking about it as well as more complex tasks. While short-term memory is usually the first sign of dementia, long-term memory loss can also be a more advanced sign of the medical condition or other cognitive issues. If you are frequently having trouble with long-term memory, you should consider a long-term test for memory.

Home memory tests

There are many reputable memory tests that you can do in the comfort of your own home that may help identify early signs of memory loss. Often, it can be helpful to do these at-home memory tests because you'll be able to get an idea of whether you should be seeking medical attention from a trained medical professional.

What to look for

When you are considering an online test for memory, look at the About Us section of the website to see what organization or company is behind the test. Who developed the test, and what applications has it been used for? You'll want to make sure that the organization behind the test is reputable. You might also want to see if you can find reviews of the organization.

Any website that does not have these documents available for your review before taking the test is likely not trustworthy. Also, look to see if a non-profit organization, university, or hospital is behind the test of memory. Using this type of site ensures that your results are based on science and not opinion.

How to take them

When you are ready to take a test for memory at home, make sure that you aren’t distracted and that you have a few minutes to dedicate to the test. Try to do the test in a room away from other people and pets. Eliminate background noise like music or television. You want to be able to focus all your attention on the test for it to be an accurate representation of your memory.

Reputable tests online

There are a great many reputable online memory tests that you can do in the comfort of your own home. You'll want to avoid any tests from websites that are trying to sell you something. If they offer a product or service to those who fail the test, you probably cannot trust the test's results. Here are some organizations that offer reputable memory tests:

  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Massachusetts
  • Alzheimer's Association
  • Ohio State University
  • MindCrowd
  • Cambridge Brain Sciences
  • Stanford University
  • Pearson's Clinical Assessment Group
  • Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation
  • Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
  • Psychology Today
  • Rutgers University

Memory games

One way to test your memory as well as strengthen it is to find memory games online. Memory games can help give you an idea of whether your memory might be failing. If you frequently lose the games, you might need to consider a more formal memory test.

Games for memory can also help you strengthen your memory skills as well as your problem-solving skills. If you have found recently that you are having more problems with photographic memory, for example, but you pass memory tests, these games can help you exercise your mind and improve your memory over time. For these games to help improve memory function and overall brain health, you need to do them frequently for a period of time.

After your home testing

If you have done memory tests at home and the results show that you really are having memory problems, you will want to follow up with a medical professional as quickly as possible. A doctor or psychologist can administer additional tests to discover the extent of your memory loss. They can also provide pertinent information regarding the results and help you take the next steps toward the diagnosis of medical conditions that may be contributing to your memory problems.

Don’t let memory worries affect your wellbeing

Online therapy for memory issues

Whether you’re experiencing real signs of memory loss or just worry that you might be, it can be distressing. In severe cases, memory concerns can also result in symptoms of anxiety or depression. If you can relate, then it may be helpful to speak to a mental health counselor or therapist. 

Doubting your memory may make it harder to keep these appointments in person, though. You might be worried about forgetting where the office is, or you could be experiencing embarrassment over perceived memory problems. That’s understandable, and online therapy may be an alternative you want to consider. 

Contrary to some skeptics’ concerns, internet-based therapies have been proven effective in treating anxiety and depression as well as a host of other mental health conditions. The licensed therapists at BetterHelp are trained in research-backed treatment protocols like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance. 

And you won’t have to wait for long to speak to someone about your memory concerns or related symptoms—most people are matched with a therapist within 24 to 48 hours. A mental health professional can help you navigate the stress you’re experiencing in regard to your new symptoms.


Memory loss can be disconcerting and at times unnerving. While some memory loss is normal as we age, if you feel uncomfortable with the amount you’re losing, then taking a memory test can help to either alleviate your fears or alert you to seek professional assistance.

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