Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
What is Memory Loss?
It can be argued that our memories help make us who we are, so what happens when we lose those memories? Memory loss, in general, is the forgetting of information and experiences that a person would normally be able to recall easily. Memory loss (sometimes called amnesia) can affect short-term memory or long-term memory:
- Short-term memories are those that recall things or information that just happened - these are recent memories.
- Long-term memories are those that recall information or events that happened a long time ago - these are more remote memories. Long-term memories are more permanently locked in your head because you've had more time to reminisce and repeat them over time.
There are a variety of conditions that can cause either sporadic or degrading memory capabilities. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all significantly affect memory, as can head injuries or stroke. Sudden injuries result in two types of memory loss or amnesia: retrograde amnesia occurs when people forget what happened before the injury or illness, and anterograde amnesia occurs when people forget what happened after the injury or illness. If someone is experiencing memory loss, a doctor will review his or her symptoms to pinpoint the cause.
Causes of Memory Loss
Though there are many things that can contribute to memory loss, here is a list with the most commonly identified factors.
- Medications: There are a variety of medications known to impair memory in some way, shape, or form. The most common culprits are pharmaceuticals used for depression, anxiety, sleeping, muscle relaxants, and tranquilizers.
- Alcohol or drug use: Have you ever woken up after a night of too much drinking and had trouble remembering what happened (assuming you're over 21)? Alcohol consumption, in addition to drug use, is a common cause of memory loss. These substances alter the brain and affect the formation of memories during their use. Additionally, smoking can restrict blood flow to the brain that affects memory function.
- Lack of sleep: Your brain relies on good sleep to rejuvenate itself. If you aren't getting enough sleep, your brain can't function properly, meaning it will have trouble forming new memories and retrieving old information.
- Depression, anxiety, and stress: When you are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, you also have trouble concentrating. As a result, you notice less of what's going on around you, and this can prevent the formation of solid memories that can be recalled later.
- Improper nutrition: A well-rounded diet is required for the brain to function well. If you are lacking proteins, fats, or certain vitamins, you may suffer memory problems.
- Head injury: A concussion or blow to the head can temporarily feel like it's knocked your memories right out of you! Injuries can affect both the short- and long-term memory regions of the brain, though sometimes memories come back over time after the head has a chance to heal.
- Stroke: A stroke results from a sudden lack of blood flow to the brain. It's common for stroke patients to have short-term memory loss, though their long-term memories stay intact.
- Dementia: You may know someone who has experienced dementia, and it can be a heartbreaking condition. With dementia, a person gradually loses their memories, and the disease is irreversible. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.
- Other causes: These can include an irregular thyroid gland, bleeding in the brain, problems with blood flow to certain parts of the brain (different from a stroke), psychological amnesia caused by an emotionally traumatic event, or a brain tumor.
Symptoms of Memory Loss
Sometimes, people will be aware they are forgetting more than usual, and they will seek out help. In cases of gradual memory loss, like dementia, the person will eventually not be able to realize he or she is memory-impaired. Some trouble drawing up memories is common as we age - that's just life, but usually these normal occurrences don't dramatically impact our quality of life. If memory loss becomes chronic and frequent, it's time to see a doctor.
A person experiencing memory loss may ask more questions than usual, they may have difficulty finding the word they're looking for in conversation, they might mix their words up, they might get lost in a familiar environment, they might start losing things like their keys more often, or they might be incapable of following directions.
So what can be done for memory loss? If the cause has been identified, like a certain medication or a dietary deficiency, this can be corrected and often the memory issues will work themselves out. Sometimes, the head just needs times to heal itself before memory function returns to normal. Therapy can help people who suffered an injury or illness, and there are some medications that are believed to help slow the loss of memory for gradual, long-term conditions like dementia.
Memory loss can come in a variety of forms and involves the forgetting of important information or events that one would usually be able to recall. It can affect the short-term or the long-term memories. Being a diverse condition, there are a number of different causes, including medication, inadequate sleep, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, a head injury, improper nutrition, stroke, or a condition like dementia. When someone suffers from memory loss, he or she may not show any symptoms or they may seem confused, ask more questions than usual, and seem discombobulated in everyday life. In some cases, medication may be appropriate, and in others, the head just needs a chance to heal itself. There is no one cure-all for memory loss, so each case is dealt with on an individual basis.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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