Individual Health Guide to Memory Loss

Memory loss can occur to anyone and can be caused by a simple distraction or something more serious. Some of the most common causes of memory loss can be attributed to natural aging, stress and depression, drug use, pregnancy, sleep apnea, major bypass surgery, and more. Read our health guide to memory loss below to learn how to recognize the signs of memory loss and when it could be signaling something more serious.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Nov 14, 2020

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We have all experienced memory loss at some point, whether it was forgetting where we put the keys, not being able to remember someone’s name, or not recalling a conversation we had a few weeks ago. Sometimes memory loss is small and temporary, but other times it may be more severe and could be the result of an underlying health problem.

It is important to learn about memory loss, so you can learn to recognize it as well as tell when it may point to something more serious than a simple case of misplaced keys.

Who Can Experience Memory Loss

Anyone can experience memory loss, although it may become more significant as we enter old age. The risk increases with age due to the likelihood of Alzheimer’s developing as well as general cognitive decline. Before our later years, we may be likely to experience memory loss during pregnancy, stressful moments, or times when we are injured or ill.

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How Memory Loss Occurs

Memory loss can occur as a result of multiple possible factors, many of which may be obvious at the time, but many of which may also sneak up on us without us being aware.

Some of the most common causes include:

Distraction – When we are preoccupied, memory can be one of the first things to go. Thankfully, memory function is likely to return when the distraction ends.

The natural limits of our memory – Some of us just don’t have the most amazing memories, to begin with. For example, while one person may be able to hold a list of ten items in their mind, another may start forgetting things after the fourth item. Even the person who can hold an entire grocery list in their mind is still likely to forget something at some point.

Natural aging – As we age, our cognitive function may decline slightly.

Drug use – Both prescribed medication and illicit drugs may interfere with memory function.

Alcohol consumption – Memory loss is generally limited to the hours after consumption but may also occur more often than that in habitual drinkers.

Stress – When we experience stress, sometimes we become overwhelmed and do not process thoughts or memories as accurately.

Grief – This works in much the same way as stress. When we are focused on grief, it can take all our energy and leave nothing left over.

Depression – When we lose a disinterest in our surroundings or experiences, we may simply not develop enough connections to those things to facilitate the development of a memory.

Anxiety – If you have ever had to give a speech, saw your audience, and then forgot everything you were going to say; then you have probably experienced anxiety. Forgetting everything when sitting down to take a test is another common example.

Chemotherapy – Memory loss during chemotherapy is often referred to as “chemo-brain.”

Anesthesia – Some people may experience continuing memory loss for several days after the anesthesia wears off.

Bypass surgery – There may be some confusion and loss of memory after surgery, although it is likely to improve with time.

Electroconvulsive therapy – This is often a last-resort treatment method for psychiatric problems. Some patients have described experiencing an extensive amount of memory loss.

Fatigue, lack of sleep, and sleep apnea – Lack of sleep can easily lead to memory loss as the mind struggles to stay awake.

Severe vitamin B12 deficiency – In some extreme cases, a lack in this vitamin has been mistaken for dementia.

Pregnancy and menopause – Changes in hormone levels can wreak havoc when it comes to cognitive function. Thankfully, pregnancy only lasts nine months. As for menopause, a doctor may be able to prescribe something to help with symptoms until they diminish.

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US Statistics

According to research, approximately 40% of those of us over the age of 65 will experience age-associated memory impairment. That is approximately 16 million people in the United States. About 10% of the 65+ group will have mild cognitive impairment, which is more severe than general age-associated impairment. Almost 15% of those with mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease annually.

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Preventing Memory Loss

While not all memory loss can be prevented, here are some simple things that you can do to give your mind the care it needs to function at its best:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Work on your stress levels
  • Stay active mentally
  • Socialize
  • Stay organized
  • Manage any health conditions
  • Know when to seek help

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Being Alert to Signs of Memory Loss and When to Seek Help

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize the signs of memory loss. Here are some things to look for:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Forgetting words
  • Misplacing items
  • Getting lost in familiar areas
  • Forgetting names or faces
  • Inability to remember recent events

Here are several possible conditions for which treatment should be sought:

A head injury – An injury that impacts the brain may lead to transient or long-term memory loss.

Thyroid problems – Issues with the thyroid can cause mental fog and memory loss. There are medical tests and treatment available for thyroid conditions. Memory loss should diminish with treatment.

Kidney and liver disorders – Both of these can cause toxins to build up in the body and brain resulting in insufficient mental processing. Proper medical diagnosis and treatment in these cases may help in improving your health as well as cognitive function.

Infections – Severe illnesses may result in reduced cognitive function.

Stroke and TIAs – Memory loss is a common result of having a stroke. Some of this memory loss may be permanent.

Brain tumor – Depending on the severity and location of a tumor, it may affect various aspects of brain function.

Alzheimer’s and dementia – As we age, we become more at risk of these often-progressive conditions.

Encephalitis – Memory loss may be accompanied by fever, headache, and seizures. Immediate medical attention should be sought.

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Coping with Memory Loss

If you are dealing with memory loss, depending on the severity, there may be some things that you can do to reduce the impact it has on day to day life.

  • Keep lists of things that you need to do and make sure to note when tasks have been completed.
  • Leave reminders around the house, such as sticky notes.
  • Try to stay organized. It’s easier to find the keys if they are hanging by the door where they always are.
  • Reduce clutter in your home and office.
  • Have someone check in with the person experiencing memory loss and make sure that nothing is being neglected.
  • Set alarms and reminders.

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Resources for Caretakers

Taking care of someone with memory loss can be overwhelming sometimes. Here are some helpful sources of information that may help you, and the person you are caring for, adjust to dealing with and managing the condition.

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