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Memory Loss

We can all be a little forgetful. These occurrences may be simple and infrequent, such as momentarily misplacing a pair of glasses or forgetting a person's name, but recalling it later in the day. Generally, changes in memory across the lifespan are manageable and don't disrupt a person's ability to work, live independently or maintain relationships.

However, there are illnesses, injuries and diseases that may contribute to memory loss problems. When memory loss can regularly disrupt life, it may be a result of an illness or disease such as dementia or depression.

Causes of Memory Loss

Reasons you may experience memory loss can include the following:

  • Head injury or trauma can trigger memory problems.
  • Forgetfulness is a potential side effect of certain medications.
  • Depression
  • Brain tumors or brain infections can affect your memory or trigger dementia-like symptoms.
  • Dementia, of which the most common form is Alzheimer's disease.
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency can create problems with your memory.
  • Alcoholism or substance use can impair your mental state and abilities. This can also occur when alcohol interacts with medications.
  • Hypothyroidism slows your metabolism, which can lead to memory problems and other issues with thinking.
  • Brain or nerve damage caused by diseases such as Parkinson's disease or Multiple Sclerosis can cause memory problems.
  • A stroke, 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.

Diagnosing Memory Loss

Your doctor may consider several different methods to diagnose memory loss. They include:

  • A physical exam to help identify the cause of memory loss and determine the extent of memory problems.
  • An evaluation of your memory and thinking skills with a short question-and-answer test. They may also perform an electroencephalogram to test brain activity.
  • Blood tests and imaging tests of your brain, such as an MRI.
  • They may also refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or a psychiatrist for a diagnosis.
  • For older adults, your doctor may conduct or refer you to someone who would perform a complete geriatric assessment.

Managing Memory Loss

If a health care professional has confirmed that you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss, they may recommend treatment options some of which are tied to a specific diagnosis.

  • Remediation: The doctor may suggest you undergo a series of drills and exercises that target the tasks you're having trouble with. This may be done with computer software, written exercises or group activities.
  • Compensatory: This technique requires you to learn how to remember things in a different learning style. A learning style is a way unique to the individual in which they prefer to retain information. For example, if you have trouble remembering to pick up certain grocery items when they are spoken to you, a compensatory technique would be to write those items down to remember them later.
  • Technological: There are numerous devices that can help reduce forgetfulness. Some examples include a digital recorder or a smartphone with a note taking app.
  • Medications: For memory loss as a result of a chronic illness or disease such as Alzheimer's, your doctor may recommend certain prescription drugs.
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