We’ve all struggled with short-term memory loss at some point, forgetting birthdays, names of people we just met, or chores we meant to do. No idea how many times I have walked upstairs and then wondered what I meant to do up there! But, when memory loss becomes a pattern, more than an occasional occurrence, it might be a sign that something isn’t quite right.
Many causes of memory loss are temporary and reversible with a lifestyle change or visit to a doctor, while others point to a larger health issue. If you’re noticing your memory isn’t what it used to be, you’re not alone. Here are twelve common causes.
Lack of sleep doesn’t only make you tired. It deeply affects your mood, motor skills, and has a significant impact on memory. In fact, sleep is critical for learning and remembering what you’ve learned. If you’ve gown forgetful and aren’t sure why, take a look at your sleep habits. If your sleep habits are affecting your memory, chances are they’re affecting your health in other ways too. Seek help from a sleep clinic as they have affective, non-pharmacological ways to improve your sleep.
Common culprits are sedatives, muscle relaxants, and pain meds. You might be surprised to know that medications for depression, allergies, blood pressure, and overactive bladder are also tied to memory loss, as well as many others. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist about common side effects of your medications. A change in medications might clear up your brain fog.
All come with a laundry list of potential health issues. Add memory loss to the list. Smoking harms your blood vessels, decreasing oxygen flow to the brain. Drugs interact with and alter brain chemistry, decreasing your ability to recall memories. Alcohol affects your short-term memory, and long-term alcoholism can cause severe dementia.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to decline in brain function, dementia, and memory issues. Exercise and regular activity decrease the risk. Studies have shown that sitting too much actually alters areas of the brain responsible for forming memories. Not to mention it’s linked to heart disease and other chronic health issues.
A poor diet is linked to heart disease, obesity, depression, high blood pressure, and yes, memory loss. In fact, the same types of foods that are linked to those conditions and many more are linked to brain health, including memory. Foods bad for your memory include refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods, trans fats, and the artificial sweetener aspartame. Best bets for memory support, and overall health, are plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
Having an underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism) thyroid can cause thinking problems including memory loss. Thyroid dysfunction can also affect your sleep, weight, heart rate, hair loss, and can cause depression. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are treatable and sorting out your thyroid problem could make significant memory improvements.
High blood sugar damages cells in the nerves and blood vessels. This puts you at greater risk for stroke and decreases the blood flow to your brain, and reduced oxygen delivery to your brain. If you have diabetes, the best thing you can do for your memory and overall health is eat a healthy diet and get adequate exercise.
Heart disease is caused by a plaque buildup in your arteries, which slows blood flow to the brain. Other cardiovascular problems, like heart failure or high blood pressure, can also affect blood flow to the brain, causing cognitive issues like memory loss. A healthy diet and adequate exercise can help.
Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can affect concentration and memory or cause confusion, making it harder to store new information or recall previous memories. Some of the medications used to treat mental health conditions can also affect memory, so working closely with you doctor is important if mental health is causing your memory loss.
Head injuries can cause short-term memory issues, cause mood disorders, and affect concentration and recall. Repetitive hits to the head are tightly tied to cognitive decline later in life and linked to dementia. Those playing contact sports or in military training or deployment are at risk, as well as victims of abuse or other trauma.
Some memory loss with age is common. Aging alone may be the culprit in your memory loss, but the fact is that older adults have more chronic conditions and take more medications than younger adults. Medications, diet, and lifestyle can contribute to memory loss. If memory loss becomes severe enough to interfere with daily life, it may be a symptom of dementia and should be evaluated by a medical professional. Make sure to stay mentally active and engaged as you age. Using your “mental muscle” helps to keep it as sharp and alert as possible.
When memory and other brain functions digress to a point where they interfere with daily life, the cause might be dementia. Dementia is not a foregone conclusion with aging and shouldn’t be brushed off as “normal.” If you feel you or a loved one have reached a point where it is difficult to function, it’s important to talk with your doctor.