As you age, it’s normal to notice subtle changes in your memory. You may forget where you placed your keys, or it takes time to remember names, dates, and events. Occasional forgetfulness is a natural part of the aging process. However, among seniors, if memory loss occurs more frequently and sooner than expected, it may be time to make an appointment with a doctor to identify the cause and treat it accordingly.
When memory loss becomes a persistent issue and a hindrance to your senior loved one in their daily lives, it becomes a health issue that has to be evaluated further by medical professionals.
What is short-term & long-term memory loss?
Memory loss can either be short-term or long-term. Short-term memory is the brain’s way of storing tiny bits of information that it has just taken in. If you notice your senior loved one forgetting things they recently saw, heard, or did, they may be suffering from short-term memory loss.
On the other hand, when the brain stores information over time, it involves long-term memory. It includes storing long-term information, such as facts, events, how to complete tasks, and directions. If your senior loved ones have trouble recalling this kind of information when necessary, they may have long-term memory loss.
Simple memory loss can be a normal part of the aging process. However, a more significant issue may cause it, such as a brain injury, dementia, vitamin deficiency, or a mental health problem.
What causes short-term memory loss?
Many things can lead to short-term memory loss. However, doctors may not always know the cause. Some causes also progress, which means that they may develop into long-term memory loss symptoms over time.
The most common short-term memory loss causes include:
- Normal aging: As people age, the brain shrinks in volume affecting memory.
- Dementia: Dementia, depending on the severity, can both cause short and long-term memory loss.
- Substance use disorder: Excessive drug use can affect the prospective memory or the part of the brain that remembers that you need to do or recall a planned action at some point in the future.
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems: Forgetfulness and confusion are common symptoms of those with mental health conditions, making it challenging to focus on tasks.
- Lack of sleep: Most people ignore quality sleep, but the lack of it is the most underestimated cause of short-term memory loss.
Other qually impactful causes of short term memory loss are:
- Illnesses that affect the brain tissue
- Brain injuries and tumors
- Blood clots in the brain
- Brain infections
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Certain medications
What causes long-term memory loss?
There are reversible and irreversible causes of long-term memory loss. Some of the reversible causes include:
- Stress: Stress doesn't only reduce the body's immunity, but it also affects the formation of memories. If you're stressed, you may find it difficult to learn or recall information.
- Adverse reactions to prescription medications: The ones used to treat a variety of health conditions, such as antidepressants, cholesterol drugs, antianxiety drugs, and more, have some cognitive effects.
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 helps the nervous system to function properly. When there's not enough in the body, it can impair cognition and memory.
- Hydrocephalus: The excess fluid in the skull can cause brain damage and result in different impairments, including intellectual.
- Dementia: Some forms of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, are irreversible, and therefore, can lead to long-term or permanent memory loss.
A significant cause of long-term memory loss is brain damage, which is generally not reversible. However, symptoms from the condition may improve, especially with early medical intervention. Additional causes of long-term memory loss include:
- Substance abuse
- Concussions and other serious brain injuries
- Brain tumors and infections
- Severe seizures
What are the symptoms of short-term & long-term memory loss?
Short-term memory loss makes older people forget fresh information, causing them to:
- Ask the same questions repeatedly
- Forget recent events and information
- Forget where they just put something
In contrast, long-term memory loss is forgetting important information from early life, such as an old address or the name of an old school. Your senior loved ones may also:
- Forget or mix up common words
- Get lost in familiar places
- Forget how to do familiar tasks
- Be increasingly irritable or moody
Treatment for short-term memory loss
Before treating short-term memory loss, it’s crucial to identify the cause by conducting cognitive tests and physical exams, such as blood tests and brain scans. Depending on the cause, potential treatments include:
- Chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery for brain tumors
- Medication for blood clots
- Surgery for bleeding in the brain
- Cognitive therapy for head injuries
- Therapy or medication for mental health problems
- Nutritional supplements for vitamin deficiencies
- Rehab for substance abuse
- Switching medications
In many cases of short-term memory loss, identifying and treating the underlying cause improves the symptoms. Improvement is seen immediately for some treatments, such as taking vitamin supplements and switching to another medication that doesn’t cause memory loss. Others, such as rehab and psychotherapy, may take some time.
Treatment for long-term memory loss
Since short-term and long-term memory loss have more or less the same causes, treatments are also quite similar.
If long-term memory loss is due to medication, the doctor may give new prescriptions. If a treatable condition causes it, corresponding treatment will help improve long-term memory loss symptoms.
However, when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, medications will only reduce symptoms, not cure them.
Partial N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists and cholinesterase inhibitors are two classes of medication used to reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Physicians typically prescribe NMDA antagonists in relieving symptoms of late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cholinesterase inhibitors at any stage.
These medications may help your senior loved one, but there is no guarantee as medications work differently in each person. The side effects have to be taken into consideration,
Aside from conventional medicine, you can also encourage your senior loved one to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy sleep schedule, and learn new things to help curb memory loss symptoms.
There are also things you can do at home to combat memory loss. Physicians recommend regular exercise, a healthy diet, learning new things, and a healthy sleep schedule to help reduce memory loss.
1. Can depression cause memory loss?
Depression is associated with memory problems, including confusion and forgetfulness. It is one of the common causes of short-term memory loss. However, it does not affect long-term and procedural memory.
In 2018, a study showed that people suffering from severe forms of depression had problems with their memory. A 2014 meta-analysis of research data also showed a clear correlation between cognitive ability and depression. Depressed individuals had memory and attention issues.
Among older individuals, depression symptoms may be mistaken for dementia as they cause seniors to gradually perform worse on brain function exams. That is why seeking treatment is highly recommended, not just to address memory loss but also to reduce the risk of dementia.
2. Does trauma cause memory loss?
Trauma can either be physical, emotional, or psychological, all of which directly contribute to memory loss.
People with traumatic brain injury commonly have memory loss, affecting short-term, long-term, and prospective memory. Some people may also forget details of the incident that caused the injury.
On the other hand, emotional and psychological trauma can lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), affecting brain function in more ways than one. The parts of the brain said to be affected by PTSD are the hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.