- Mental Health
Memory Loss: Causes & Treatment
Mere forgetfulness is not a sign of memory loss, it’s normal. A mild decline in memory and information processing occurs normally with age. We've all forgotten a phone number, an acquaintance's name or misplaced an item. And since the brain can produce new cells at any age therefore memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process.
So, it's important to know the difference between normal forgetfulness and what could be due to stress or other factors. However, forgetfulness is common in older people, but most of the time it isn’t cause for concern. An example would be entering a room and forgetting the reason for going there.
Age related memory changes are not the same as dementia, a term used to describe a collection of symptoms related to decreased intellectual functioning of those having two or more major life functions impaired such as memory, language, perception, judgment or reasoning. As we grow older, physiological changes occur that can affect brain function. It may take longer to learn or recall information. Sometimes this is mistaken for true memory loss. But in most cases, given time, the information will come to mind.
Memory loss is usually classified as either short term, Long term (recent) or Long term (remote). All have many of the same causes. To store and retrieve information the brain performs a convoluted chain of chemical and electrical functions involving nerve cells. As aging occurs, some of these cells deteriorate.
An example of short term memory loss would be looking up a phone number and remembering it long enough to place the call. Once the call is completed, the number is forgotten. Long term (recent) involves the recent past such as remembering what one had for breakfast yesterday or the day before that. Long term (remote), concerns the distant past like memories from 10 or 20 years ago, such as what one was doing on 9/11 or the day JFK was assassinated.
As the human body ages, problems with memory invariably occurs. The most common problem experienced by older generations is simply forgetting names. It’s important to note normal age related loss of memory usually doesn’t signify diminished intelligence or ability to learn and generally not related to intelligence level or education. The brain may simply need more time recalling information or to learn new things.
Today’s fast paced living makes it difficult for our brain’s ability to process and assimilate the vast amount of information assailing it. Stress, anxiety and anger are some of the most common causes because they tend to increase blood pressure, including the brain. But, don’t stop reading just yet, because that’s not the long and short of it.
There are other complex situations that can cause memory loss. Combined with an inadequate diet lacking vitamins, amino acids and other essential nutrients needed to maintain a healthy, functioning brain it shouldn’t be surprising when memory problems crop up.
However, there are also major differences between long and short term memory loss. First, let’s look at short time memory loss. Some causes can be attributed to thyroid disorders or low blood glucose levels. More complicated conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease can affect both. Meningitis or similar infections are also common causes of short time memory loss as is epilepsy. Surprisingly, short term is considered the worst of the two because it can lead to confusion, paranoia and dementia.
This shouldn’t be confused with sudden short term memory loss, usually caused by a physical disorder such as a head injury or a stroke. These might damage memory areas and are usually irreversible, so the best course of action is common sense prevention. Avoid alcoholic beverages, drugs, smoking and caffeinated drinks. Instead, eat natural foods and drink liquids like water, green tea or juices rich in vitamin C. Eliminating all stress may not be possible, but there are stress relieving techniques that can help.
Long term memory loss poses different problems. Our brain has a great capacity to store both short and long term memory information. However, by the age 30, brain cells naturally start dying. As one ages more brain cells die. Therefore, both storage capacity and ability to make new memory is affected. Some are not able to remember things from their past like old friends, addresses or even when they were born. The most common cause of long term memory loss is Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes can be a stroke, head injury, drug side effects, brain tumors, seizures, high blood pressure, alcoholism and poor nutrition. Some common symptoms of long term memory loss are:
Forgetting names or problems doing once familiar tasks; Difficulty learning; Repeatedly asking the same questions; problems making decisions; not being able to keep track of daily events or getting lost.
Several areas in the brain play a role in long term memory, perhaps the most important being the Hippocampus located in the center of the brain. This small organ can store vast amounts of memory. However, it’s extremely vulnerable to body changes caused by aging such as loss of neurons. Another memory area is the frontal lobe. Obviously, any trauma to this area can result in loss of memory.
Memory loss due to aging and diseases like Alzheimer's can be frightening. Anyone worried they may be experiencing memory loss, should consult a physician before treating them self.
There are natural remedies to improve memory like gingko biloba and blessed thistle. They have been effectively used to stimulate circulation and amount of oxygen being received by the brain. B complex vitamins and compounds like inositol and choline have also been linked to improved memory-recall and stress reduction. And vitamins C and E contain strong antioxidants to reduce damage free radicals may cause. Others have found some lifestyle changes to be beneficial. Adequate sleep, exercise, avoiding alcohol and improving poor eating habits, not smoking, controlling diabetes and hypertension are good places to start. If these measures fail, they may at least slow down the process.
The next step for treatment involves prescription drugs however, the majority of studies show they are only useful for mild cases of dementia. They are also expensive and have side effects that in many cases are worse than the problems being addressed. But only a doctor can make the best recommendation.