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Conditions that Cause Memory Loss

Wednesday 1 April 2020
Memory loss

Table of Contents


I. Overview

II. Emotional problems

a. Depression

b. Stress

III. Brain problems

a. Aneurysms

b. Trauma

c. Normal pressure hydrocephalus

IV. Amnesia

V. Infections & diseases

VI. Treatments

a. Medications

b. Foods

c. Supplements

d. Alcohol

e. Lifestyle


Overview

Memory loss affects millions of people every day. Most people associate memory loss with older people, but it can affect many people for a multitude of reasons. Pre-existing medical conditions can cause memory loss as well as various head injuries. Some causes of memory loss are more severe than others, but some conditions can be reversible with medications like Aricept or Namenda.

Emotional problems

Psychological problems like depression and stress can severely affect the brain and its function. Emotional distress has been linked to memory problems and can affect the ability of a person to think clearly. Emotionally-linked memory loss can often be remedied and usually affects short-term and procedural memory.

a. Depression

Feelings of sadness, anxiety, numbness, and worthlessness characterize depression. Those with depression often have trouble sleeping and a loss of appetite. In one 2013 study, researchers found that memory can be diminished as a result of depression.

This study found that people with depression could not identify objects on a screen that were identical to an object they had seen previously. This typically indicates a problem with short-term memory. [1]

A man with covering his face with his hands.

b. Stress

When a person becomes stressed, the body produces a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol makes it challenging to pull memories from the brain successfully. When a person is stressed, they can have a hard time creating short-term memories and turning those into long-term memories. This indicates difficultly in learning under stress.

Stress can be caused by a variety of factors including, workplace worries, death of a loved one, or money problems. These factors can lead to exhaustion, which can impair the processes concerned with attention and working memory. It is important to practice self-care, eat healthily, and get enough sleep to manage stress. [2]

Brain Problems

When the brain is injured, many symptoms like memory loss can occur. Trauma to the brain can cause problems that affect every aspect of a person’s life, including their memory. Some common brain issues include:

a. Aneurysms

An aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning blood vessel in the brain. The cause of an aneurysm is unknown and often occurs randomly. If an aneurysm leaks or ruptures, bleeding in the brain occurs. This can quickly become life-threatening and requires prompt medical treatment. Aneurysms often feel like a terrible headache and may cause vomiting and nausea.

Memory loss can occur with this condition if the released pool of blood clots causes pressure on the brain and damage brain cells. Body functions and mental skills may be affected. Memory problems disappear over time in 30 percent of aneurysm cases. [3]

Diagram of a brain aneurysm.

b. Trauma

Brain tumors can cause pressure on the brain, which can cause memory problems. Traumatic injuries like concussions rattle the brain inside the skull. Recovery times depend on the individual and the severity of the damage.  Memory loss from concussions usually impairs a person’s ability to remember newly presented information. This usually resolves itself after the proper recovery time. [4]

Strokes can also cause problems with memory. Strokes happen when blood stops flowing to any part of your brain. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged. [5]

c. Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)

NPH is a brain disorder in which excess cerebrospinal fluid pools in the brain’s ventricles. This can cause thinking problems, reasoning problems, difficultly walking, and a loss of bladder control. This disorder is common in those in their 60’s and 70’s, affecting nearly 700,000 adults. NPH is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. When NPH is properly diagnosed, then a shunt can be inserted to drain the fluid. Drugs like diuretics can get rid of excess fluid as well as improve symptoms of the condition. [6]

Amnesia

Amnesia refers to the loss of memories, information, and experiences. Amnesia is often used as a trope in movies and TV, but in real life, it presents differently. Those with amnestic syndrome have trouble learning new information and forming new memories.  Brain injuries, brain diseases, and long term alcohol abuse can cause amnesia.

Confusion or disorientation, as well as false memories, are common symptoms of amnesia. Amnesia is not the same as dementia because dementia involves other significant cognitive problems that lead to a steady decline in daily functioning.

Psychotherapy can be used to help improve amnesia. Psychotherapy is used to overcome problematic thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. With the help of a trained psychotherapist, an amnesia patient can recover some lost memories. [7]

A person holding up an old photograph.

Infections/diseases

Memory loss can result from infections in the brain. Infections of the brain or body can cause some cases of dementia. Discovery of a treatable infectious cause of cognitive impairment is uncommon, but it is a crucial step in determining the cause of a person’s dementia or memory loss. 

HIV/AIDS: There is an HIV-associated cognitive disorder that affects the brain and causes a problem with mental functioning. This form of cognitive impairment is more common in people who have low T-cell (white blood cells) count before they begin HIV treatment. [8]

Lyme disease: Four species of bacteria cause Lyme disease. Ticks usually transmit Lyme disease, so it is crucial to take commonsense precautions in tick-infested areas. If you get Lyme disease, then you can develop inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain, which can cause meningitis. Neurological problems can occur and result in memory loss. [9]

Syphilis: Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can become dangerous if not treated properly. Painful ulcers characterize the first stage of syphilis, but it progressively gets more serious. A patient can experience neurosyphilis, which is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. This can lead to the destruction of the nervous system, loss of vision, and altered mental abilities. These altered mental abilities can lead to memory loss. [10]

Encephalitis: Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain tissue. Infectious encephalitis most commonly results from the herpes simplex virus. This virus affects the temporal lobes of the brain, which can affect the brain’s ability to form new memories. If encephalitis remains untreated, then more severe memory problems can occur. [11]

Treatments

Some conditions that cause memory loss require medical intervention, but there are several things you can do to improve your brain functioning and help reverse your memory loss. Some conventional treatments are listed below.  

a. Medications

Drugs like Namenda can help treat cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning. Aricept is another medication that results in an improvement in mental function.

b. Foods

Dieticians recommend avoiding foods with added sugar because excessive sugar has been linked to health issues and chronic diseases. A sugar-laden diet can lead to poor memory and reduced brain volume. Cutting back on sugar can improve your mind as well as your overall health. Consuming foods low in carbohydrates can also be beneficial.

Fish oil pills on a white table.

c. Supplements

Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, relieve stress and anxiety, and slow mental decline. One study found that the short-term and working memory scores of 36 older adults improved after taking fish oil supplements for 12 months.

d. Alcohol

Excessive alcohol use can significantly affect the state of your health. Studies have shown that binge-drinking alters the brain and result in memory deficits. One study of 155 college freshman students who consumed six or more drinks within a short period of time had difficulties in delayed memory-recall tests.

Avoiding alcohol can help maintain a sharp memory. Alcohol has a neurotoxic effect on the brain, and repeated episodes of binge drinking can damage the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in memory.

e. Lifestyle

A balanced diet can lead to the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining your weight and practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation can help keep the brain and body in top form. Participating in social activities as well as engaging in puzzles, card games, and reading keeps the mind active. [12] 

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.