Help Decide the Future of Aging. Join the White House’s Live Stream Today. Learn more

Memory 101: Learn the Different Types Of Memory and How to Keep It Strong

Remember information for the short-term, long-term and the rest of your life

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is like a receptionist for the brain. It's responsible for registering information temporarily and determining whether it will be dismissed or transferred on to long-term memory. Although it can sound complicated, this sorting function takes less than a minute to complete. For example, it is helping you right now make sense of this sentence by storing information from the start of it until you've finished reading the end.

More recently, scientists have begun to dive a little deeper into "short-term" brain functions and have added a separate (but similar) type of memory, known as "working" memory. Although the two are often used interchangeably, they are different. Working memory emphasizes the brain's manipulation of information it receives (using it, storing it and so on), while short-term memory is a more passive concept. Working memory is often thought of as the brain's "scratch pad," which keeps information — such as a number or name — on hand just long enough to use it.

As we grow older, the length of time our short-term memory can store information becomes shorter. This makes us more likely to have trouble keeping up with certain tasks, like remembering which button to push in a bank's phone menu. It also gives our brains less time to successfully move new information to long-term memory, making us more likely to forget details of recent events. Memory lapses and cognitive decline are a normal part of aging, but not an inevitable one, you can work to slow down the process by maintaining a brain-healthy lifestyle and keeping your memory active.

Next page: Do you know the difference between implicit and explicit long-term memory? »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

AARP Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members get exclusive points offers from Walgreens, Duane Reade and

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members can save 20% on hearing aids with the AARP® Hearing Care Program provided by HearUSA.

AARP membership discount Man trying on eyeglasses at optometrists smiling

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at LensCrafters.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.