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What is Memory Loss?

Every single person can forget something at some time. In many cases, we forget the name of a person you just met or you have misplaced your car keys. It is a fairly common part of aging to have some memory loss to some degree, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills. But, there is a difference between the normal changes in memory and memory loss which is associated with Alzheimer‘s disease and related disorders.

Also, there are some memory problems that are a result of treatable conditions. If you are having memory problems, then you should talk with your doctor to get a diagnosis and appropriate care. The mild memory loss tends to increase with the age and it is generally no cause for concern.

memory loss

You should talk with your doctor if the memory loss starts to affect your daily life or if it is accompanied by other symptoms. Your doctor will discover what type of memory loss you have and what the cause is for it. In most cases, causes of memory loss are treatable if they are diagnosed early. If they are not diagnosed and treated, then some illnesses will progress and make treatment more difficult.

Memory loss and aging

As you are getting older, you can find that you have memory lapses from time to time. You may misplace things more often or you may forget the name of someone you just met. Maybe you rely more on calendars and lists to remember appointments and chores. But, the memory loss from normal aging will not affect your ability to function at work or at home. [1,2]

Memory Loss: Causes

There are many different factors that could lead to memory loss, such as

  • Migraine [3]
  • Neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease
  • TIA (transient ischemic attack) [4]
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Thyroid dysfunction [5]
  • Emotional trauma
  • Mental disorders, such as dissociative disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression [6]
  • Brain surgery or heart bypass surgery
  • Brain tumor or infection [10]
  • Certain types of seizures
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Head injury or concussion
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, or bone marrow transplant [7]
  • Anesthesia from recent surgery
  • Use of alcohol or drugs and some prescription medications [8]
  • Sleep deprivation [9]
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency [11]

Some of these conditions are treatable and in some cases, memory loss can be reversed.

Also, there can be reversible causes for memory loss. There are many medical problems that can cause memory loss or other dementia-like symptoms. Most of these conditions can be treated, so you should talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you. Also, your doctor can screen you for other conditions that cause reversible memory impairment. The most common causes of reversible memory loss include:

Brain diseases

Infection or tumors in the brain can cause memory problems or other dementia-like symptoms. [10]


Some medications or a combination of medications can cause confusion or forgetfulness.


The underactive thyroid gland (also known as hypothyroidism) can result in forgetfulness and other thinking problems. [5]

Minor head trauma or injury

A head injury from a fall or accident, even if you do not lose consciousness, can cause memory problems.

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 can help to maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. When older adults have Vitamin B12 deficiency, then this can cause memory problems. [11]

Emotional disorders

Depression, anxiety, or depression can cause confusion, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and other problems which can disrupt daily activities.

If you are concerned about your memory loss, then you should talk with your doctor. Also, there are some tests to determine the degree of memory impairment and diagnose the cause. Your doctor will ask you if you have a family member or friend that have some memory problem or had it in the past. You should tell your doctor when was the start of your memory problems and what kind of symptoms you have. If you have taken some medications for this condition, then tell him this too.


[1] Small GW. What we need to know about age related memory loss. BMJ. 2002;324(7352):1502–5. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7352.1502

[2] National Institute on Aging. Memory, forgetfulness, and aging: What’s normal and what’s not? Retrieved from

[3] Rist PM, Kurth T. Migraine and cognitive decline: A topical review. Headache. 2013;53(4):589–98. doi:10.1111/head.12046

[4] van Rooij FG, Kessels RPC, Richard E, et al. Cognitive impairment in transient ischemic attack patients: A systematic review. Cerebrovascular Diseases. 2016;42:1-9.

[5] Begin ME, Langlois MF, Lorrain D, Cunnane SC. Thyroid function and cognition during aging. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research. 2008;2008:474868. doi:10.1155/2008/474868

[6] Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. New molecules reverse memory loss linked to depression, aging. Science Daily. 2019. Retrieved from

[7] McDougall GJ, Oliver JAS, Scogin F. Memory and cancer: A review of the literature. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. 2014;28(3):180–6. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2013.12.005

[8] White AM. What happened? Alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain. Alcohol Research & Health. 2003;27(2):186-96.

[9] Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2007;3(5):553–67.

[10] Kleinberg L. Neurocognitive challenges in brain tumor survivors: Is there anything we can do? Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2015;33(15):1633–6. doi:10.1200/JCO.2014.60.2805

[11] Health Quality Ontario. Vitamin B12 and cognitive function: An evidence-based analysis. Ontario Health Technology Assessment Series. 2013;13(23):1–45.

Elene Jordanova
Elene Jordanova
Elena Jordanova is a medical researcher from Macedonia with specialization in Internal Medicine


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