Memory Loss

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Definition

What is memory loss?

Our memory is where we store, retain and retrieve information. When there is some damage to the part of our brain that performs these functions, memory loss can occur. Memory loss is a symptom in which a person experiences an abnormal level of forgetfulness and inability to recall past events in their life. This is usually a consequence of damage to the brain which may have been caused by disease, injury or excessive emotional stress. Memory loss may be temporary or permanent. Not all memory problems signify dementia or Alzheimer’s. Memory impairment can be caused by many medical conditions, and it is possible that something simple and treatable such as depression or epilepsy or even a medication may be the underlying cause.

Memory loss is a very broad term that can mean any deficit in memory function. There are many different types of memory loss including anterograde (inability to learn new memories), retrograde (forgetting old memories), complete or partial, sudden or long term. Sometimes a person will have only memory loss (sometimes called the ‘amnesic syndrome’) or only mild memory loss (called ‘mild cognitive impairment’). Sometimes a person will have memory loss as part of more general problems, such as in dementia where a person may have difficulty with memory as well as difficulty with speech, fiddly jobs and planning.

How common is memory loss?

Some memory loss is quite common as people get older. However, it can occur in patients in any gender at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Which signs and symptoms can memory loss usually be associated with?

Related signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with reasoning, judgment, language, and thinking skills
  • Behavioral problems
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

Causes

What causes memory loss?

Causes of memory loss can include:

  • Normal ageing process (age-associated memory impairment);
  • Vitamin deficiencies such as B12 and anaemia, electrolyte imbalances;
  • Thyroid abnormalities: hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism;
  • Depression, anxiety and stress (pseudo dementia);
  • Other psychiatric disorders, especially post traumatic stress disorder;
  • Head injuries;
  • Dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia;
  • Delirium;
  • Temporal lobe surgery;
  • Cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, transient ischaemic attack and multi-infarct dementia;
  • Sleep apnoea;
  • Cerebral tumours;
  • Dehydration;
  • Cardiovascular disorders: acute myocardial infarction, arrythmias (irregular heartbeat), congestive heart failure;
  • Seizures (especially temporal lobe epilepsy);
  • Medications (e.g. barbiturates and benzodiazepines);
  • Alcohol;
  • Drugs: many illicit drugs, including amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine can cause short term memory loss;
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (thiamine deficiency);
  • Encephalitis (especially Herpes simplex infection);
  • Infections: meningitis, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease);
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Electroconvulsive therapy;
  • Huntington’s disease, late Parkinson’s disease, Picks’ disease.

Some degree of memory loss is a normal part of ageing and not all people who have memory loss have dementia or any of the above conditions.

The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of memory loss. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for memory loss?

There are many risk factors for memory loss, such as:

  • Old age
  • Brain trauma from head injuries, surgery, etc.
  • Stroke
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Lack of mental and physical exercises
  • Social isolation
  • Low level of education
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Drug abuse
  • Dehydration
  • Depression, anxiety, and mood problems

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

When to see your doctor

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you are:

  • Becoming lost in places that are usually familiar to you;
  • Repeatedly asking the same questions;
  • Confused about time, people and places;
  • Frequently losing your belongings (i.e. wallet and keys);
  • Forgetting appointments and social commitments.

As a result of the ageing process, memory and thinking abilities slow down naturally and it may take longer to remember things. Such mild memory impairment is referred to as age-associated memory impairment and is usually absolutely normal. However, when memory loss has progressed to such an extent that normal every day activities cannot be carried out (such as eating, bathing, shopping, driving and taking medication) then this is an indication that a more severe type of memory dysfunction may be occurring which should be checked by your GP.

On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage memory loss?

These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with memory loss:

  • Use lists for chores.
  • Keep a checklist of medications and when they should be taken. Some people find “pill sorters” helpful. You can purchase these at your local pharmacy, and they will help you remember whether or not you took your medication.
  • Keep your address book and calendar up to date.
  • Keep your home organized and easy to manage.
  • Be socially active and engage in hobbies you enjoy.
  • If your memory loss is progressing or becoming severe, make an appointment with your doctor. Ask someone you trust to go with you.

If you are diagnosed with a form of dementia, your care, safety and security is very important and should be discussed with family and carers.  It is important for you to maintain a daily routine with constant supervision to make sure you eat, bathe and take medication properly. If the condition is severe and progressive then hospitalisation or extended care facilities may have to be considered.

Organise legal and financial affairs as soon as possible in case your condition deteriorates quickly. Wills and power of attorney should be discussed with family and any one else involved. You should also discuss if you would prefer to have a carer or live in an aged care home, and your funeral details.

For caregivers: Watching someone you love struggle with memory loss can be difficult. Depending on the severity of their condition, there are many ways you can help. For example:

  • Encourage them to visit their doctor if their memory loss is interfering with their daily functioning. Go with them to the appointment.
  • Keep a checklist of their medications and when they should be taken.
  • Help them update their address book and calendar.
  • Help them organize their home.
  • Keep important items in plain sight.
  • Use sticky notes around the house as reminders of how to perform tasks.
  • Encourage them to remain socially active.
  • Use photographs and familiar belongings to spark memories.
  • Arrange to have someone help in the home. If memory loss is severe, investigate home health care, assisted living, or nursing home options.
  • Be patient. Don’t take someone else’s memory loss personally — remember that they can’t help it.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: February 21, 2019 | Last Modified: February 21, 2019

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