Do you often lose your keys, or forget where you have put your glasses? Or, meeting someone you have met before, find you are suddenly at a loss for his or her name? Have you gone out to a shop for something, and when you got there, forgotten what it was? Then don't worry. You are almost certainly completely normal. No one's memory is perfect, and you will find that yours will get worse as you get older.

It even has a medical name, age-associated memory deficit, or AAMD. And it's quite different from what many people fear it is - the start of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. Having a normal memory is quite complex. Remembering what someone has said uses quite different brain pathways and processes from those needed to remember a face. So that there are people who remember a name but can't place a face, and vice versa. And there are people, like me, who can't do either, but can carry a host of phone numbers in their heads. And whatever the strengths and weaknesses of our memory, it's divided into two main parts - short-term and long term.

Short term memory is our ability to hold information for around 20 seconds. Just enough, for example, to keep a phone number in our heads for the time between looking it up in a directory and dialing it. A few minutes later, most of us will have forgotten it. Long term memory is the store of knowledge we have gathered over years. Remembering things that happened years ago can be easier than remembering something that happened yesterday, partly because we have returned to them often over the years, and they are important to us. So if your memory is failing you, don't immediately conclude that disaster lies ahead. There are no magic ways of retrieving it, but you can follow some easy rules to help overcome your problems.

The first rule is to plan ahead. Keep a large wallchart or notepad in a prominent place (usually the kitchen), and put all you are going to do, in the near and more distant future on it. Look at it every morning. Whenever you arrange something write it down immediately - don't trust yourself to do it later that day. That means having pens handy near the phone and the walllchart. (Not having a pen handy is the commonest way to mess up.) If you have to do something at the same time each day, such as taking medicine, set a watch alarm to remind you. If you have to take quite a lot of pills each day, your pharmacist will help you with pill boxes that remind you when to take them. Try to be organised in your daily routine, so that you do particular tasks at specific times, say after a meal. It helps if you are tidy, and always put things away in the same place as soon as you have finished with them. You can get remote control devices to find those blasted keys.

There's no magic way to improve your memory, but keep on using your brain. Doing regular quizzes, crosswords, reading, studying, learning poems or dramatic parts all seem to slow down memory loss. Two years ago I met Professor Kachachurian, of New York, world famous for his work on Alzheimer's disease. He recommended doing crosswords in a foreign language! That's probably too much for most of us. Most important, recognise that if you are anxious about things this can make the memory worse. Anxiety can make you try to do too many things at once or make it difficult to concentrate. So face whatever is making you anxious and try to be a bit more relaxed.

Concentrating on one problem at a time, in an environment that is quiet and free from distractions will help you store information in your brain more efficiently. If you are interrupted while doing something, try to return to it and complete it as soon as possible. These tips may be all you need to return your memory to normal.

Finally, if you are worried about your memory, and you don't feel that you are as sharp mentally as you were, please go to your doctor. Without knowing it you may be depressed, and there is a remoter possibility that you have early dementia. It is best to know about either diagnosis, because the first can be treated, and the second must be managed with skill and care as early as possible. And some new drugs for dementia seem to help in these early stages. To find out more, contact Mind at the Scottish Association for Mental Health, Cumbrae House, 15 Carlton Court, Glasgow G5 9JP (0141 568 7000).

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.