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What Causes Memory Loss? Key Factors Explained

Medically reviewed by Maushmi Sheth
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Medically reviewed by Maushmi Sheth

The occasional misplaced key or forgotten appointment might be dismissed as a minor inconvenience. It’s a mere blip in an otherwise sharp memory. However, for many, these experiences can be a cause for concern. It raises questions about the underlying cause of their forgetfulness. Is it simply a natural consequence of aging, or could it be indicative of something more serious?

This article embarks on a comprehensive exploration of what causes memory loss. It will delve into the intricate inner workings of the human mind. We’ll navigate the complex mechanisms that enable us to store and retrieve information. We will unveil the various factors that can disrupt these processes.


Causes of Short-Term Memory Loss

Infographic on memory loss causes

Occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of life. However, persistent or frequent short-term amnesia can be concerning. Here’s a breakdown of some potential reasons:

Medical conditions:

  • Head injuries. Concussions and other head injuries can disrupt brain function. It leads to short-term memory difficulties.
  • Brain infections. Conditions like meningitis or encephalitis can inflame the brain, impacting memory consolidation.
  • Neurological disorders. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease can affect memory function as they progress.
  • Thyroid issues. An overactive or underactive thyroid gland can disrupt brain function and memory formation.
  • Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folate can be causes of memory loss.

Lifestyle factors:

  • Stress and anxiety. Chronic stress and anxiety can negatively impact focus and memory consolidation.
  • Sleep deprivation. Insufficient rest disrupts brain function and hinders memory formation and recall.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Excessive alcohol consumption and drug use can damage brain cells. And it leads to memory problems.
  • Medications. Certain medications, like antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and pain relievers, can have amnesia as a side effect.

Other factors:

  • Depression. Depression can affect mood and concentration and be the cause of short-term memory loss.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Individuals with ADHD may experience difficulties with working memory and information processing.
  • Normal aging. It’s not inevitable. However, some memory decline is common with age. It affects short-term retrieval and processing speed.

Note that this list is not exhaustive. The cause of short-term amnesia can vary depending on individual circumstances. If you’re experiencing consistent memory problems, consult a healthcare professional. It’s for proper diagnosis and personalized guidance.


What Causes Sudden Loss of Memory?

Many memory issues develop gradually, and experiencing sudden amnesia can be particularly alarming. Here are some potential causes:

Temporary Conditions:

  • Transient global amnesia (TGA). This is a temporary, reversible condition. It’s characterized by sudden amnesia, often for a few hours. The cause remains unclear. Theories suggest brief disruptions in blood flow to the brain can be the reason.
  • Stressful events. Extreme stress or emotional trauma can trigger temporary amnesia. Which usually resolves once the event is processed.
  • Migraines. Some experience temporary amnesia, confusion, and difficulty forming new memories during or after migraine attacks.
  • Syncope (fainting). A brief loss of consciousness due to insufficient blood flow causes short-term lapses.

Medical Conditions:

  • Seizures. Seizures can disrupt electrical activity in the brain. They sometimes can be the cause of temporary and sudden loss of memory. But it depends on the seizure type and location.
  • Stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. Depending on the affected area, it can cause sudden amnesia.
  • Brain tumors. Depending on the location and size, brain tumors can interfere with memory function. And they can cause sudden memory lapses.
  • Medication side effects. Medication affecting the central nervous system can cause amnesia.

Substance Use:

  • Alcohol intoxication. Excessive alcohol consumption can impair memory formation and lead to blackouts. Those are periods of complete amnesia during intoxication.
  • Drug use. Certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, can be the cause of temporary and sudden loss of memory.


Causes of Memory Loss Depending on Age

Memory function naturally changes throughout life. There are different factors contributing to memory decline at various stages.

Remember that the presence of memory lapses doesn’t necessarily state a serious condition. However, if you experience worrisome changes in memory function, regardless of age, consult a healthcare professional. It’s for proper diagnosis and personalized recommendations. They can assess your individual situation and explore potential underlying causes. They also offer guidance on managing memory challenges and maintaining cognitive health.

Here’s a breakdown of some potential causes of amnesia based on age.

What Causes Loss of Memory at a Young Age?

Causes of memory loss

Memory lapses are often associated with aging. However, experiencing amnesia at a young age can be particularly concerning. Here are some potential causes to consider:

Medical Conditions:

  • Head Injuries. Concussions and other head injuries disrupt brain function and lead to memory problems. Early diagnosis and appropriate management are crucial for optimal recovery.
  • Neurological disorders. It’s less common in young adults. However, conditions like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and brain tumors can affect memory function.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Certain autoimmune conditions, like lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome, can affect the brain. They are potentially what causes memory loss.
  • Mental health conditions. Depression, anxiety, and untreated ADHD can impact memory consolidation.
  • Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea and other rest disturbances can disrupt brain function. And they negatively impact memory formation and recall.
  • Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folate can contribute to memory problems. And addressing these deficiencies can improve cognitive function.

Lifestyle Factors:

  • Chronic stress. Sustained stress levels can negatively impact memory formation and retrieval. Implementing stress management techniques like mindfulness and relaxation practices can be beneficial.
  • Substance misuse. Excessive alcohol consumption and drug use can damage brain cells. And they lead to memory problems. It includes blackouts in the case of alcohol intoxication.
  • Medications. Certain medications can be the cause of memory loss as a side effect. Consulting a healthcare professional about potential alternatives or managing side effects is crucial.
  • Headaches and migraines. It’s less common. However, some experience temporary amnesia during or after migraine attacks.

Other Factors:

  • Nutritional deficiencies. An unhealthy diet lacks essential nutrients. And it can contribute to cognitive decline, including memory problems.
  • Lack of sleep. Insufficient rest disrupts brain function and hinders memory consolidation and recall. Prioritizing good rest hygiene is essential for optimal cognitive function.

Early diagnosis and intervention can be crucial in managing memory problems effectively. Remember, experiencing occasional forgetfulness doesn’t necessarily signify a serious condition. However, if memory issues become persistent or disrupt your daily life, seek professional guidance. It is essential to ensure your well-being and receive the necessary support.


Causes of Memory Loss in Elderly

Senior man examining himself in a mirror

Some memory decline is not uncommon with age. And it’s important to differentiate between normal age-related changes and serious underlying causes. Here’s an overview of potential contributors to amnesia in older adults:

Natural Age-Related Changes:

  • Brain structure and function. As we age, the brain undergoes natural changes. It includes shrinkage in certain areas and decreased blood flow. These changes can affect memory processing and retrieval. They impact short-term memory and information processing speed.

Neurodegenerative Diseases:

  • Alzheimer’s disease. This progressive neurological disorder is the most common cause of dementia. It leads to a gradual decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities.
  • Vascular dementia. This type of dementia results from disrupted blood flow to the brain. It impacts memory, judgment, and reasoning. It can occur on its own or alongside Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Lewy body dementia. This cause of memory loss is characterized by abnormal protein deposits in the brain. This form of dementia can cause fluctuations in cognitive function. It includes memory, along with movement and behavioral changes.
  • Frontotemporal dementia. This dementia variant primarily affects the frontal and temporal lobes. It leads to changes in personality, behavior, and language.

Other Medical Conditions:

  • Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 and folate can contribute to memory problems in older adults. Addressing these deficiencies can improve cognitive function.
  • Thyroid disorders. An overactive or underactive thyroid gland can disrupt brain function and memory formation.
  • Medication side effects. Certain medications can have amnesia as a side effect. Consulting a healthcare professional about alternative medications or managing side effects is crucial.
  • Depression. Untreated depression can negatively impact memory and concentration in older adults.

Lifestyle Factors:

  • Chronic stress. Sustained stress can be the cause of short-term memory loss. Or it can worsen existing problems. And it can impact cognitive function in older adults. Implementing stress management techniques is beneficial.
  • Sleep deprivation. Insufficient or poor-quality rest disrupts brain function. And it hinders memory consolidation and recall. Prioritizing good rest hygiene is essential.
  • Unhealthy diet. A diet lacking essential nutrients can contribute to cognitive decline, including memory problems. Focusing on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is important.
  • Lack of physical activity. Regular physical activity promotes brain health and cognitive function. Engaging in physical activity, even in low-impact forms, is recommended.


Does Lack of Sleep Cause Memory Loss?

How to prevent memory loss
Occasional sleep deprivation might not lead to permanent amnesia. But chronic lack of rest can certainly impair your memory function. Rest plays a crucial role in consolidating memories. It’s the process of solidifying new info and experiences for long-term storage and retrieval. During rest, the brain replays and strengthens the neural connections formed while awake. It facilitates memory consolidation.

Insufficient rest disrupts this process. It leads to difficulties:

  • Encoding new information.
  • Recalling previously learned details.
  • Forming strong memories.

Sleep deprivation can impact the ability to learn new things and retain information. It even reduces learning efficiency by up to 40%.

Therefore, prioritizing adequate rest is crucial for optimal memory function. Aiming for 7-8 hours of quality rest per night allows your brain to consolidate memories efficiently. If you’re experiencing persistent rest issues that impact your memory or overall well-being, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended to explore potential underlying causes of memory loss and receive guidance on improving your rest hygiene.


Bottom Line

The landscape of amnesia is diverse. There are various factors contributing to forgetfulness at different stages of life. Whether it’s occasional lapses or persistent difficulties, it doesn’t matter.  Understanding the potential causes empowers individuals to seek appropriate support. At our clinic, we offer comprehensive memory assessments and personalized guidance. We are to help individuals navigate memory concerns and optimize cognitive health. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. And embark on a proactive approach to your well-being. Together, we can navigate the intricacies of memory. And we will ensure optimal cognitive function throughout life.



What is the most common cause of memory loss?

Forgetfulness related to aging is most common. However, various factors like stress, medical conditions, and medications can also contribute to it.


Can I prevent memory loss?

Preventing memory loss often involves healthy lifestyle practices. They’re exercise, brain stimulation, and a balanced diet, but some causes are unavoidable.


Is memory loss always a sign of Alzheimer’s?

No, memory loss isn’t always Alzheimer’s. Many treatable conditions can cause it. However, if you experience significant memory decline, consult a healthcare professional.


How does stress affect memory?

Stress can impair memory. It’s particularly short-term. It’s done by affecting brain chemicals and making focusing difficult. Managing stress can help memory function.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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