11 Causes Of Short-Term Memory Loss And What To Do About It

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated February 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may have experienced forgetfulness in the past, whether about something meaningful or trivial. However, when the moments you forget outnumber those you remember, there may be cause for concern. There are several reasons that you may be experiencing short-term memory loss. Educating yourself on these causes can be beneficial in knowing whether you should reach out for support.

Are Memory Issues Complicating Life?

What Is Short-Term Memory? 

Your memory can be divided into two main categories: short-term and long-term. Short-term memory temporarily stores information, whereas long-term memory stores information for extended periods. However, short-term memory must function appropriately for long-term memory to form. When remembering a piece of information, your senses take in information and relay it to your short-term memory. If the brain labels the information necessary, it may then relay it to long-term memory.

The central executive part of the prefrontal cortex is primarily responsible for short-term memory. This part of the brain allows you to recall short-term and long-term memories. However, it is also where short-term and working memory are stored temporarily. Short-term memory can include remembering a phone number to dial, why you went into a room, or what you recently told someone in a conversation. Many people who experience short-term memory loss might have trouble remembering these types of information. 

Short-Term Memory Vs. Working Memory

Short-term and working memory are similar but different. Working memory may last about 15 to 20 seconds. If information is deemed worthy of remembering and short-term memory works appropriately, the information may be relayed to short-term memory. 

Working memory is constantly being discarded, relayed, and replaced. If you are having problems remembering information for a few seconds after receiving it, your short-term working memory might not be functioning correctly.  

What Is Short-Term Memory Loss?

Short-term memory loss can present itself in various methods. Some individuals have occasional problems remembering something in the short term, but this can be debilitating for others. If you only have problems remembering things occasionally, you may not have cause for concern. However, if any of the following occur regularly, you may want to seek out help for a memory test and possible diagnosis:

  • Walking into a room and forgetting why you went there

  • Repetition in conversations because you don't remember what you said

  • Forgetting what others have said soon after they said it

  • Taking medication twice or not at all due to forgetting whether you took it 

  • Eating twice or not at all because you don't remember if you have eaten

  • Hanging up the phone and forgetting who you talked to

  • Dialing a phone and forgetting whom you were going to call or why

When short-term memory loss affects your everyday life and activities, it may be rewarding to seek out help. 

Causes Of Short-Term Memory Loss

There are many possible causes of short-term memory loss, some of which are only temporary and can be remedied. However, many medical conditions that cause short-term memory loss are permanent and might lead to long-term memory loss. Short-term memory loss is often the first sign of certain medical conditions. If you are concerned about your health, reach out to a medical provider as soon as possible. 

A Brain Aneurysm

A brain aneurysm is a weak or bulging spot on the walls of arteries in the brain. These aneurysms might not rupture, but if they do, they can cause a pool of blood around the brain that might cause clotting, causing mental deficiencies and killing off brain cells. This process can lead to short-term and potentially long-term memory loss. Approximately 30% of patients with a ruptured brain aneurysm regain their short-term memory, although it can take several weeks. 

Brain Tumor

A brain tumor that affects the prefrontal cortex can also affect short-term memory. If the tumor is putting pressure on the prefrontal cortex or stopping the neural pathways in that area of the brain, you may be unable to remember information quickly. You may also have difficulty recalling information from long-term memory. Sometimes removing the tumor can restore memory.


Amnesia is a loss of memory and may be temporary or permanent. People with amnesia might experience poor short-term memory and have difficulty creating new memories. Amnesia can be caused by some medical conditions or injuries, including brain trauma, overdose, stroke, dementia, a brain infection, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Alzheimer's And Dementia

Alzheimer's is a deterioration of cognitive abilities that may begin with short-term memory loss. Other signs of Alzheimer's include:

  • Increased aggression

  • Mood swings

  • Behavioral changes 

  • Jumbled speech

  • Loss of appetite 

  • An inability to combine muscle movements

  • Confusion 

Dementia is the official term for the loss of memory and confusion resulting from Alzheimer's. However, dementia can also occur in other types of patients, such as those with multiple strokes or other medical conditions.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which individuals stop breathing in small increments while asleep. There have been cases where people experienced symptoms of short-term memory loss because of this condition. 

Some people are misdiagnosed as having early-onset Alzheimer's because of the symptoms that sleep apnea can cause. The condition can cause sleep deprivation, leading to short-term memory loss. Often, if the patient corrects their sleep apnea symptoms with a CPAP or similar equipment, their memory may return over time. A sleep study test may be done to get a sleep apnea diagnosis. Talk to a sleep doctor if you're concerned with your sleeping habits. 

Silent Stroke

Silent strokes are minor strokes that can happen undetected. People might experience minor strokes while sleeping or awake that are so mild that they do not exhibit typical stroke symptoms. However, the temporary blockage of blood vessels in the brain can cause some brain damage, including short-term memory loss. Multiple silent strokes can exacerbate these symptoms. 


Certain medications may affect short-term memory. You might find that if you take any of these medications for an extended period, you could experience short-term memory loss. This memory loss may be temporary, and memory function could return after the medication wears off. Medications that may cause short-term memory loss include: 

  • Sleeping pills

  • Antihistamines

  • Antidepressants

  • Anti-anxiety medications

  • Prescription painkillers, particularly opioids

  • Diabetes medication

  • Cholesterol medication, particularly statins

If you notice that you have developed short-term memory loss over time, write down a list of your medications and how long you have been taking them. If it is determined that the medication is to blame, other treatments may be considered. Talk to your doctor before changing, stopping, or starting any medication. 

Nutritional Deficiency

Certain nutritional deficiencies could cause short-term memory loss. For example, severe deficiencies in vitamin B12 have been linked to short-term memory loss, confusion, and dementia. You may regain your short-term memory if you correct the deficiency and achieve the correct amount of B12 in your system. However, talk to your doctor before starting any vitamins or supplements. 

Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Stress or conditions like anxiety and depression may lead to short-term memory loss. Individuals experiencing stress or a mental health condition may not sleep well. Sleep deprivation can contribute to short-term memory loss, so you might benefit from counseling, medication, or lifestyle changes in these cases.  

Alcohol Misuse

Studies have found that short-term memory loss can be a symptom of alcohol misuse. Individuals who experience alcohol intoxication may have trouble remembering their actions. However, hangovers and other symptoms can also contribute to short-term memory loss. Long-term sobriety may be a form of managing this memory loss. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.


Studies have shown that short-term memory can fail as we age and that information retrieval in healthy seniors is slower than in young people. There may not be any medical conditions behind memory loss in every case. 

What To Do About Short-Term Memory Loss

If short-term memory loss makes it difficult for you or a loved one to function daily, consider reaching out for help. Contacting a licensed therapist or psychologist can be a first step. A mental health professional may be able to administer a memory test to gauge the severity of your memory loss. They might also be able to refer you for additional tests to determine the cause of the memory loss.

If you are concerned you are experiencing a medical issue, reach out to a medical doctor first to get testing and any required referrals. Often, individuals experiencing memory loss due to a medical condition may see a medical doctor and a therapist simultaneously to receive comprehensive care. 

In some cases, memory loss may cause making and keeping an appointment to be challenging. You might be required to remember directions to a therapist's office, or you may not be able to drive. In these cases, online therapy could provide a feasible alternative. You can contact a licensed professional without having to leave the house. Additionally, you might feel more comfortable discussing memory loss from a comfortable location. 

Online therapy is as effective as in-person counseling in many cases. For example, a recent study demonstrated the ability of internet-based therapeutic methods to reduce generalized anxiety symptoms in some clients. If you're interested in getting started with a therapist alongside any other treatments, reach out through a platform like BetterHelp

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Are Memory Issues Complicating Life?

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Short-term memory loss can feel scary, isolating, and confusing. If you're experiencing symptoms of this type of memory loss, reach out to a doctor for screening. You can also supplement your medical care through counseling, which may allow you personalized support, validation, and understanding during this time. 

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