It is common for everyone to occasionally experience forgetfulness and as you age, mild memory loss tends to increase, but there is typically no reason for concern. However, there is a significant difference between mild memory loss resulting from aging and a progressive or extreme loss of memory due to illnesses and/or other causes. Loss of memory may come on slowly or it may suddenly start and it can affect your ability to remember events from the past, recent events or both. Memory loss can also be temporary or permanent.
What Causes Memory Loss?
There are a number of causes for loss of memory, including:
- Drug and/or alcohol use-excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol has been shown to cause both short term memory loss and long term memory loss. In some situations, when the person quits the drugs or alcohol, after a period of time some or all of their memory may return.
- Medications-there are several different over-the-counter and prescription medications that may interfere with or cause memory loss. Some of the most common medications may include, sleeping pills, pain medications, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, antidepressants and statins and memory loss are also extremely common.
- Sleep deprivation-the quality as well as the quantity of sleep are both very important to memory. If you get to little sleep or if you frequently wake up during the night, it may lead to fatigue, which can interfere with your ability to retrieve information.
- Stress and/or Depression-if you are stressed and anxious it can interfere with your concentration. Depression can also interfere with concentration and make it difficult to focus and pay attention, which affects your memory.
- Deficiency in nutrition-one of the most important things for proper brain function is good nutrition. If you have a deficiency in Vitamins B1 and B12 it can affect your memory as can a deficiency in protein and fat.
- Head injuries-a head injury resulting from a fall, a hit to the head and/or an automobile accident can cause serious injury to the brain, which may cause short term memory loss and/or long term memory loss. In most situations, when caused by a head injury, the memory loss will gradually improve over time.
- A Stroke-a stroke happens with the blood supply to your brain is stopped as a result of a blockage in a blood vessel leading to the brain or a vessel that leaks into the brain. A stroke can often cause short term memory loss and in many situations,the long term memory is intact. For example, a person who has a stroke can recall vivid childhood events, but is often unable to recall what they had for breakfast.
- Dementia-this is the name used for progressive memory loss and when other factors of thinking are damaged enough to cause interference with the functions of daily activities. There are several causes of dementia, however, the most common and the most familiar cause is Alzheimer’s Disease, which is characterized by the progressive loss of brain cells and other irregularities occurring in the brain.
- Other causes of memory loss may include; thyroid problems, infections, such as tuberculosis, syphilis and/or HIV that have an effect on the brain.
Reversible Memory Loss
When the loss of memory is caused by certain things, it can often be reversed. For example, memory loss due to medications, head trauma, depression, alcoholism and/or vitamin deficiency can typically be reversed. In most situations, once the person has recovered from the cause their memory will fully return. However, in some situations, the person may be able to recall events in their short term memory, but struggle with events in their long term memory, such as from their childhood. However, in the majority of cases, regardless of the type of memory loss or the extent of the memory loss, the person will usually regain all memories over a period of time.
Memory Loss Test
If you are worried about memory loss, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Your physician will be able to conduct a memory loss test to determine the degree of the memory impairment as well as diagnose the cause of the memory loss. When you visit your doctor regarding a loss of memory, he/she will ask you a variety of questions, so it may be beneficial to have a friend or family member with you that can answer the questions you have difficulty with. Along with a physical examination, your physician will probably conduct a brief question and answer test that will help judge your memory and thinking skills. You may also be required to have blood tests done as well as brain imaging tests to help identify the possible cause of your memory loss.
Treatment for Memory Loss
The treatment for your memory loss depends on the cause. For many people, memory loss is reversible with treatment. For example, if your memory loss is from medications, a simple change in your medications may improve your memory. The treatment may also be specific to the condition that is related to the memory loss. For example, if the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, you may be given medications to help lower your blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of additional brain damage that results from dementia, which is increased with high blood pressure. If your memory begins to affect your daily functioning, it is crucial that you consult with your doctor immediately, especially if you are having other symptoms.
Coping With Memory Loss
One of the most difficult things to do is learning to cope with a loss of your memory. However, coping will actually help you adjust and possibly improve or maintain your memory. There are few things you can do to help you with daily activities, including:
- Keep a medications checklist
- Make a chore list
- Keep your calendar and address book up to date
- Keep your home easy to manage by organizing items where they are easily found
- Engage in hobbies and activities that you enjoy
- Be socially active, stay in touch with friends and family and avoid staying home all of the time
- Memory Loss and Loved One’s
- If your loved one is struggling with memory loss, it is important to remain supportive, encouraging and patient. There are a number of things you can do to help, including:
- Going to doctor visits with them
- Write down medications, when they should be taken and if necessary use a pill organizer
- Avoid rearranging items in their home
- Use sticky notes as reminders of how to perform certain tasks
- Use familiar belongings and photographs to spark their memories
Memory Loss Due to Aging
It is extremely important to keep in mind that it is normal for some memory loss to occur as you age. For example, you may run into a friend at the mall and forget their name, but you will recall it later on in the day. Misplacing your glasses is a common experience as well. The easiest way to overcome memory loss resulting from aging is to manage it. Managing your daily schedule will help you to overcome the memory loss, for example, making a list of the chores you need to complete by the end of the day will help you to stay focused on each specific task. The more you socialize and stay active the better it is for your memory. Make it a point to do something for your brain each and everyday. For example, work one crossword puzzle each day or learn how to play video games, which are excellent for not only your memory, but coordination and multitasking as well.
When it comes to memory loss, whether it be short term or long term, it is important to keep in mind that not all memory loss is related to a serious disease, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. In many situations, even when the memory loss is related to Alzheimer’s, it may not be possible to completely cure the disease, but it is possible to treat the symptoms of the disease, including memory loss. The most important thing is to always keep your brain exercised. Each and everyday, whether you are experiencing memory loss or not, do some type of activity that will help to keep your brain strong. For example, working crossword puzzles, playing board games, video games and even reading will help you to focus, concentrate and improve your memory. The primary goal is to never give up and to continue doing everything you can to improve your cognitional functioning.