Experiencing a moment of forgetfulness now and then is perfectly normal and happens to every one of us now and then. However, if this memory loss starts to become a trend, then it might be a cause of concern. At the same time, experiencing progressive memory loss due to health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease can be a severe cause of concern. If you find that your memory loss is starting to have an effect on your day to day life, or if it also accompanied by other symptoms, then you should make it a point to consult your doctor – sooner rather than later. Paying attention to what type of memory loss you have will also help your doctor determine the underlying cause. Many of the causes of memory loss are treatable if they are diagnosed on time. If left undiagnosed and untreated, then there are many illnesses that will only continue to progress, making treatment more challenging. It all depends on the causes of memory loss. Read on to find out about what causes memory loss and what is treatable and what is not.
What Causes Memory Loss?
Aging-related Memory Loss
When you suffer from memory loss due to normal aging, it is unlikely to prevent you from continuing to live a full and productive life. For example, you may forget where you left your glasses, or you are unable to recall the name of a person you just met, you maybe you just need to make more lists than you used to in the past to remember tasks and appointments.
These changes in memory as you age are quite manageable, and they do not cause any disruption in your ability to work or live independently. Memory loss from normal aging also does not affect your ability to function normally, and there is no need to worry about aging-related memory loss.
Memory Loss and Dementia
Another type of memory loss that commonly affects people is memory loss due to dementia, or as a symptom of dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term that is today used to describe a wide range of symptoms, including impairment in reasoning, judgment, thinking skills, language, and memory. Dementia typically starts without any warning and then gradually worsens over time. It impairs a person’s ability to work, their social relationships, and their work. It affects their ability to function.(1)
Often, memory loss that causes disruption in a person’s life is one of the first and most recognizable signs of dementia. Some of the other early symptoms of dementia may include:
Forgetting commonly spoken words
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Mixing up words
- Taking longer to complete everyday tasks
- Misplacing items in inappropriate places
- Having sudden changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason
- Getting lost while driving or walking in a familiar area
There are many health conditions that lead to progressive damage to the brain, which consequently results in dementia. These may include:
- Alzheimer’s disease (this is the most common cause of dementia)(2)
- Lewy body dementia
- Vascular dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
The disease pathology of these above-mentioned conditions, though, differ, but memory impairment is typically a symptom of all of these conditions. It is also possible to have more than one type of dementia, a condition known as mixed dementia.
Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is known to be one of the most common causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a disease that impairs memory and also has an impact on a person’s judgment, reasoning, as well as their ability to communicate, learn, and perform day to day functions. People with Alzheimer’s disease are likely to become confused and disoriented very quickly.
Alzheimer’s tends to affect short term memory more as long-term memories tend to be stronger and also last longer than recent memories.
It is possible for younger people also to be affected by Alzheimer’s, but it generally affects people over the age of 65.
Other Causes of Memory Loss
There are many other factors that can cause memory loss, including:
- Sleep deprivation
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency(3)
- Anesthesia from a recent surgery
- Head injury or concussion
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Infection or brain tumor
- Brain Surgery
- Heart bypass surgery
Cancer treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, and/or bone marrow transplant
- Emotional trauma
- Thyroid dysfunction(4)
- Mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, dissociative disorder, and schizophrenia
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, or Huntington’s disease.
While some of these conditions are treatable, and the memory loss can be reversed, but others have no cure, and the memory loss tends to get worse as the disease progresses.
Reversible Causes of Memory Loss
As mentioned above, there are many medical conditions that can cause memory loss or other symptoms that are similar to dementia. Many of these conditions are treatable, and therefore, the memory loss in these cases can be reversed. When you first go to your doctor with a complaint of memory loss, he/she will first screen you for conditions that cause reversible memory loss.
Here are some of the possible causes of reversible memory loss:
- Minor head injury or trauma: A head injury from an accident or from a fall, even if you do not lose consciousness, can lead to memory problems. Once the wound heals, it is likely that your memory will return to normal over time.
- Medications: There are certain medications or combinations of drugs that can lead to confusion or forgetfulness. Once the medication is stopped, your memory will return to normal.
- Alcoholism: Regular and chronic alcoholism can also severely damage mental abilities. Alcohol also causes memory loss by interacting with medications you may be taking.
- Emotional disorders: Anxiety, depression, or chronic stress can lead to confusion, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and many other problems that cause disruption in day to day activities.
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Vitamin B12 is necessary for the body for maintaining healthy red blood cells and nerve cells. The deficiency of vitamin B12 is actually quite common in older adults and is known to cause memory impairment.(5)
- Brain diseases: An infection or a brain tumor can also cause memory problems as well as other dementia-like symptoms.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, can also lead to forgetfulness and other cognitive problems.
Should You See A Doctor?
If you are concerned about the bouts of forgetfulness you are having, then it might be a good idea to see a doctor. There are many diagnostic tests that help determine the degree of memory impairment and also diagnose the cause of memory loss.
You should especially consult a doctor if your memory impairment starts interfering with your daily activities, threatens your safety, or starts to progress to other physical symptoms.
Remember that memory loss can also be caused by a variety of conditions and illnesses that may worsen if you do not seek treatment.
Coming to terms with memory loss and the possible onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be challenging. Many people try to hide memory issues, and many times family members or friends also try to compensate for a person’s loss of memory, without being aware of the true extent of the problem.
Getting an early diagnosis is essential so that the cause of memory loss can be identified. Identifying a reversible cause of memory loss can help you get the appropriate treatment so that your symptoms can be managed and the condition can be cured. Furthermore, in cases of conditions that are untreatable, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, then also it is equally important to get an early diagnosis so that you can begin treatment to manage the symptoms.
- Hou, C.E., Miller, B.L. and Kramer, J.H., 2005. Patterns of autobiographical memory loss in dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: A journal of the psychiatry of late life and allied sciences, 20(9), pp.809-815.
- Chertkow, H. and Bub, D., 1990. Semantic memory loss in dementia of Alzheimer’s type: What do various measures measure?. Brain, 113(2), pp.397-417.
- Holmes, J.M., 1956. Cerebral manifestations of vitamin-B12 deficiency. British medical journal, 2(5006), p.1394.
- Kudrjavcev, T., 1978. Neurologic complications of thyroid dysfunction. Advances in neurology, 19, pp.619-636.
- Oh, R. and Brown, D.L., 2003. Vitamin B12 deficiency. American family physician, 67(5), pp.979-986.