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Memory loss (amnesia) is unusual forgetfulness. You may not be able to remember new events, recall one or more memories of the past, or both. The memory loss may be for a short time and then resolve (transient). Or it may not go away, and, depending on the cause, it can get worse over time.
Causes of Memory Loss
Here are some of the more common things that can cause memory loss:
Medications. A number of prescription and over-the-counter medications can interfere with or cause loss of memory. Possible culprits include: antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and pain medications given after surgery.
Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use. Excessive alcohol use has long been recognized as a cause of memory loss.
Smoking harms memory by reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Studies have shown that people who smoke find it more difficult to put faces with names than do nonsmokers. Illicit drugs can change chemicals in the brain that can make it hard to recall memories.
Sleep deprivation. Both quantity and quality of sleep are important to memory. Getting too little sleep or waking frequently in the night can lead to fatigue, which interferes with the ability to consolidate and retrieve information.
Depression and stress. Being depressed can make it difficult to pay attention and focus, which can affect memory. Stress and anxiety can also get in the way of concentration. When you are tense and your mind is overstimulated or distracted, your ability to remember can suffer. Stress caused by an emotional trauma can also lead to memory loss.
Nutritional deficiency. Good nutrition including high-quality proteins and fats is important to proper brain function. Deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B12 specifically can affect memory.
Head injury. A severe hit to the head from a fall or automobile accident, for example can injure the brain and cause both short- and long-term memory loss. Memory may gradually improve over time.
Stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is stopped due to the blockage of a blood vessel to the brain or leakage of a vessel into the brain. Strokes often cause short-term memory loss. A person who has had a stroke may have vivid memories of childhood events but be unable to recall what he or she had for lunch.
Tips for coping with a Memory Lost
- Keep everyday items, such as car keys, in the same place and try to do things in the same order each time.
- Write information down, and keep paper and a pencil near the phone.
- Keep a diary at home as well as at work to remind you to do daily tasks.
- Use an alarm to help you remember to do something in the future, such as taking something out of the oven.
- Repeat important information you need to remember back to someone.
Memory Loss Home Care
A person with memory loss needs a lot of support.
- It helps to show the person familiar objects, music, or and photos or play familiar music.
- Write down when the person should take any medicine or do other important tasks. It is important to write it down.
- If a person needs help with everyday tasks, or if safety or nutrition is a concern, you may want to consider extended-care facilities, such as a nursing home.