Memory change, or memory loss, is partial or complete loss
of memory caused by a physical or psychological condition. Memory loss can be
temporary or permanent. Memory loss ranges from temporarily forgetting a simple
fact to not knowing your own name. A variety of different factors cause memory
changes. It is important to know the underlying cause of memory loss so that
the proper treatment can be given.
Many people experience a mild form of memory change as they
age. Signs of typical age-related memory change include:
- forgetting to pay a monthly bill
- forgetting what day of the week it is, but then
remembering it later
- losing things from time to time
- sometimes forgetting which word to use
The causes of more serious memory change are divided into
reversible and permanent causes. Reversible causes are temporary conditions
that either resolve on their own or can be cured with the proper treatment.
Possible reversible causes of memory loss include:
One or more medications you are taking may cause you to develop memory changes.
- Minor Head
Trauma: Injuries to the head, even if you remain conscious, can result in
Consistent and long-term alcohol abuse may significantly impair memory.
B-12 Deficiency: Vitamin B-12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells. A deficiency
in vitamin B-12 may lead to memory loss.
and Other Psychological Disorders: Depression, stress, and other mental
health problems are linked with confusion, concentration lapses, and
Though rare, brain tumors can cause memory loss.
Your thyroid produces a hormone that is essential for energy metabolism. If
your body is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, you may develop memory
Irreversible causes of memory loss are often linked to
dementia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dementia is a
combination of deficiencies affecting memory, thinking, calculation, learning
capacity, judgment, language, and emotional status.
Common causes of dementia are:
Disease: Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases of
Dementia: Vascular dementia occurs when a patient has a stroke or another
condition or event disrupts the brain’s blood supply. This is the second most
common cause of dementia (Alzheimer’s
- Lewy Body
Dementia: Lewy bodies are abnormal proteins that form in the brain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Lewy body dementia is the cause of 10 to 22
percent of dementia cases (Mayo
Other diseases that cause dementia by damaging the brain
include Huntington’s disease, HIV, and late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Injuries
to the brain may also cause dementia.
When memory changes begin to interfere with daily activities,
contact a doctor. Prompt diagnosis can lead to a treatment regimen that may
help limit or control memory loss.
During the appointment, the doctor will ask the patient a
number of questions A family member or another caregiver should be present in case
the patient is unable to answer some of the questions.
The doctor may ask:
- When did you start experiencing memory changes or
- What medications are you taking?
- Have you recently started taking a new medication?
- What have you done to cope with the memory
- Do you drink alcohol?
- Have you recently been sick?
- Are you depressed, or are you experiencing unusual
levels of stress?
- Have you injured your head?
- What is your daily routine? Has that routine
Answers to these questions, along with a physical exam and
some other tests, will help your physician identify the cause of your memory
Without treatment, memory changes can decrease a person’s
quality of life. Difficulty communicating, anger, and depression are common
side effects. Memory loss may prevent people from eating at the right times,
which can lead to malnutrition, and from properly taking care of their health. Patients
who do not receive treatment for severe dementia are at a high risk for
Treatment for memory changes depends on the underlying
cause. If the memory changes are slight, trying new things that challenge the
mind may help. Puzzles, learning a new language, or reading more may help
reverse some normal age-related memory changes. Remember that severe memory
loss is not a normal consequence of aging.
For reversible memory loss, doctors will attempt to treat
the underlying condition. Once treated, patients usually recover from their
Permanent memory loss is treated with medications and
Medications that are typically used to slow the rate of
memory loss include: donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine