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.
What Is Short-Term Memory?
Your memory can be divided into two main categories: short-term and long-term. Short-term temporarily stores information, whereas long-term stores information for extended periods. However, short-term must function appropriately for long-term 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 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 may last about 15 to 20 seconds. If information is deemed worthy of remembering and short-term works appropriately, the information may be relayed to short-term.
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 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 impairment affects your daily life and activities, it may be rewarding to reach out for 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 health 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 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.
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 through surgery 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 form of dementia and 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
- Mental health challenges, such as depression
- Memory problems and severe cognitive impairment
Dementia is the official term for the loss of memory and confusion resulting from Alzheimer's. However, dementia symptoms can also occur in other types of patients, such as those with multiple strokes or other medical conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is not a natural part of aging but does most frequently occur in older adults. Alzheimer’s disease cannot be treated but some forms of treatment may slow the progress and side effects and temporarily improve memory.
Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which individuals stop breathing in small increments while asleep. There have been cases where people experienced memory problems 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 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
- 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.
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.
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 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. However, common medical causes of memory loss include head injury, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
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 perform a memory test to determine whether you are experiencing reversible loss and gauge the status of your condition. Mental health services may also include referrals for additional testing 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. A doctor may explore your medical history, conduct testing, and provide 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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