Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer's or another dementia. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.


If you have difficulty remembering things, your mind may make the leap to Alzheimer’s disease – but that’s not the only cause of memory loss.

There are several possible causes of memory loss (including short term memory loss). For the purpose of a discussion on possible causes, memory loss is defined as a loss of ability to form new episodic and semantic memories, or recall fairly recent episodic or semantic memories. 

Memory loss is distinct from forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is the occasional lapse of memory, such as misplacing your car keys, forgetting the name of an acquaintance (but not a close friend), or not remembering the title of a recent movie you watched (but having the title “at the tip of your tongue”). 

You can't find your keys or you forget an appointment. For many people in middle age or older, simple acts of forgetfulness like these are scary because they raise the specter of Alzheimer's disease.Talk with your doctor about concerns you may have about your memory, so the condition responsible for your symptoms can be addressed. Discussing your symptoms and taking various tests, possibly including an MRI, may help your doctor determine what is affecting your memory, Gale says. In some cases, one or more of the following issues could play a role.

Sleep Apnea

This common but treatable sleep disorder causes breathing to stop briefly and frequently throughout the night. . It is linked to memory loss and dementia.   You might have sleep apnea if you wake up with a headache and have daytime fatigue — or if your partner complains of loud snoring. 

When not treated, sleep apnea affects spatial navigational memory, found a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. This type of memory includes being able to remember directions or where you put things like your keys. The research suggests that deep sleep, also known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, plays an important role in memory. The injury sleep apnea causes can show up as a variety of memory loss symptoms, .One explanation is that for people with sleep apnea, oxygen delivery to the brain is interrupted several hundred times during the night. The brain is stressed, so people wake up. The injury sleep apnea causes can show up as a variety of memory loss symptoms.

Silent Stroke

Obvious changes in the ability to think and move normally can come from strokes that block major brain blood vessels, Gale says. Mild memory problems can also develop gradually after silent strokes that affect smaller blood vessels. These changes in brain function, which can range from mild to severe, are called vascular cognitive impairment.

The brain is especially vulnerable to blocked or reduced blood flow depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. People with memory loss are at greater risk for stroke. And forgetfulness may be an early warning sign of stroke found a study published in the journal Stroke.


Memory loss could be a sign that your medication needs to be adjusted. Several types of drugs can affect memory, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:

• Sleeping pills

• Antihistamines

• Anti-anxiety medications

• Antidepressants

• Certain painkillers

• Cholesterol-lowering medication

• Diabetes medication

The FDA also cautions that cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins could slightly increase the risk for reversible cognitive side effects. These include memory loss and confusion.

A commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, has also been associated with memory problems. A study published in Diabetes Care found that people with diabetes who took the drug had worse cognitive performance than those who did not take it.

 Nutritional Deficiency

A lack of sufficient B12, one of the B vitamins essential for normal nerve function, can lead to confusion and even dementia. Each day, you should get about 2.4 micrograms of B12 in your diet from natural sources like dairy products, meat, and fish, or from foods fortified with vitamin B12 — like fortified cereals.

Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Significant stress or anxiety can lead to problems with attention and memory, cautions Lyketsos. This is particularly common among people who may be juggling home and work responsibilities and are not sleeping well. Usually, easing stress can improve memory, Lyketsos says.

Untreated chronic stress can lead to depression, which could also affect brain function, according to research published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences.

Less Common Causes of Memory Loss Other conditions that can lead to problems with memory include:

• Infection: Memory loss may be attributed to severe infection around the brain, including neurosyphilis,.

•  Head injury: Symptoms of a mild brain injury may include confusion and trouble with memory and concentration.

• Tumors: Memory and the ability to process information may be affected by brain tumors, the American Brain Tumor Association says. In addition, treatments for a tumor can affect your memory, including brain surgery, chemo, or radiation therapy.

• Alcoholism, Substance Abuse: Both alcoholism and drug abuse can affect memory, says Lyketsos. A study published in Neurology found that men who drank heavily showed signs of mental decline one to six years earlier than light drinkers.


There are 10 warning signs and symptoms

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life

• Challenges in planning or solving problems

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks

• Confusion with time or place

• Trouble understanding visual image and spatial relationships 

• New problems with words in speaking or writing

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

• Decreased or poor judgment

• Withdrawal from work or social activities

• Changes in mood and personality  


7 tips to improve your memory

Can't find your car keys? Forget your grocery list? Can't remember the name of the personal trainer you liked at the gym? You're not alone. Everyone forgets things occasionally. Still, memory loss is nothing to take lightly.

Although there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss or dementia, certain activities might help. Consider seven simple ways to sharpen your memory — and know when to seek help for memory loss.

1. Stay mentally active

Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape — and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles. Play bridge. Take alternate routes when driving. Learn to play a musical instrument. Volunteer at a local school or community organization.

2. Socialize regularly

Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others — especially if you live alone.

3. Get organized

You're more likely to forget things if your home is cluttered and your notes are in disarray. Jot down tasks, appointments and other events in a special notebook, calendar or electronic planner. You might even repeat each entry out loud as you got it down to help cement it in your memory. Keep to-do lists current and check off items you've completed. Set aside a place for your wallet, keys and other essentials.

Limit distractions and don't do too many things at once. If you focus on the information that you're trying to retain, you'll be more likely to recall it later. It might also help to connect what you're trying to retain to a favorite song or another familiar concept.

4. Sleep well

Sleep plays an important role in helping you consolidate your memories, so you can recall them down the road. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day.

5. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet might be as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. What you drink counts, too. Too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.

6. Include physical activity in your daily routine

Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. This might help keep your memory sharp.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging — preferably spread throughout the week. If you don't have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day.

7. Manage chronic conditions

Follow your doctor's treatment recommendations for any chronic conditions, such as depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and kidney or thyroid problems. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory is likely to be. In addition, review your medications with your doctor regularly. Various medications can affect memory.

When to seek help for memory loss

If you're worried about memory loss — especially if memory loss affects your ability to complete your usual daily activities — talk to your doctor. He or she will likely do a physical exam, as well as check your memory and problem-solving skills. Sometimes other tests are needed as well. Treatment will depend on what's contributing to your memory loss.

Memory & Treatment for Memory Problems

Treatment for memory problems depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Common treatments include lifestyle changes, medication, and other therapies.

Lifestyle strategies that can be helpful for people with memory impairments include the following:

• Avoid hurrying (rushing)

• If possible, be open about memory problems so others will be more patient

• Follow a routine

• Label important items and/or their locations (e.g., photographs, pictures, and items in kitchen cupboards and dresser drawers)

• Use memory aids (e.g., personal digital assistants [PDAs], digital clocks, answering machines, lists, calendars, pill boxes, maps)

• Use memory techniques (e.g., mnemonic devices, repeat key information, make associations with landmarks or pictures)

 Some types of memory loss are treated with medication. In some cases, making adjustments in current medications can help improve memory problems. This happens frequently with epilepsy patients who experience memory issues as a side effect of epilepsy medications.

Commonly-prescribed medications for Alzheimer's disease include tacrine (Cognex), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), donepezil (Aricept), and memantine (Namenda). Some doctors prescribe donepezil for patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Most types of amnesia are not treated with medication. Some amnesia patients find occupational therapy helpful, as they are able to relearn information that has been lost and use memories that remain to build new ones. Memory training teaches amnesia patients how to organize the information they take in, process this information, and build upon it. Music therapy can help some dementia patients with behavioral issues, helping them to remain calm or to reconnect with positive emotions that are drawn out through music.

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