Why do I forget stuff?

Memories are the most valuable belongings of a person. They help you live a productive day and accompany you in solitude. Cherishing the sight of loved ones, recalling where you placed your glasses or remembering your appointments, is all dependant on a good memory. Memory problems can be due to an underlying disease such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, medications, or a myriad of emotional and metabolic disturbances. 

What causes memory problems?

Memory formation is a complex process of encoding and storage. Short-term memories last anywhere from seconds to minutes while long-term memories are a forever treasure. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays an important role in memory formation and routing it for storage to different parts of the brain where they are stored as communications between neurons. Anything that affects the functioning of the hippocampus, the number of neurons, or the production of the neurotransmitters can result in forgetfulness.

memory problems

Most people associate memory loss with degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s, but that’s not always the case. Memory loss can be due to aging or reversible health conditions that can be remedied with proper interventions. Here’s a list of some factors that can cause memory problems.

Stress

Stress is an innate response to physical or emotional challenges. While short-term stress can lead to impaired memory recall, chronic stress can lead to dementia. The levels of cortisol hormone increase during stress which is the major player in stress resilience. Cortisol induces hippocampal atrophy thus impeding memory consolidation and is also proven to be a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease in genetically predisposed individuals.

stress and alzheimer's

Aging

The age-related decline in brain functions can lead to troublesome forgetfulness. This, in part, is due to a shrinkage in the size of the brain – known as brain atrophy – and also due to personal and social factors. Although there is no cure for aging, a healthy lifestyle, staying mentally active, and socializing can improve memory in old age. 

alzheimer's age

Medications

Some prescription medications can severely affect memory and lead to forgetfulness. The most important of which are Benzodiazepines – used to treat many psychological diseases and insomnia. Other culprit drugs are Cholesterol drugs, Antidepressant drugs, Parkinson’s drugs, Hypertension drugs, Antiseizure drugs, Narcotic painkillers, Incontinence drugs, and Antihistamines.

alzheimer's medical

Not all of these affect memory at all dosages. Consult your doctor if you’re taking a combination of these drugs and facing problems with recalling simple information from your memory.

Sleep deprivation

“Sleep on it” is a concept familiar to most of us. The processing of tons of information, gathered during the day, is accomplished during a night of sound sleep. Memory processing during different stages of sleep is critical in memory consolidation and successful retrieval. Being sleepless affects the memory in a negative way and pushing sleep hours with caffeine adds fuel to the fire.

dementia and sleeping

So, taking a good nap before your exam will help more in solving questions than studying whole night with little to no sleep.

Anxiety

Memories are encoded more strongly when we’re paying attention, deeply engaged or when information is useful. Anxiety interferes with the ability to pay attention and judge the significance of information, leading to memory problems.

Alcohol & other drugs

Drinking too much alcohol can take a toll on healthy memory. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to both short-term and long-term memory problems. It is recommended not to take more than 10 ounces of wine for men and 5 ounces of that for women in a day.

alcohol dementia

The use of illicit drugs, such as cocaine and ecstasy, can also reduce cognitive performance and damage the brain, even when used once in a lifetime.

Smoking

Although smokers feel more concentrated and alert after a “puff”, there is more to the picture than this effect of nicotine on brain receptors. Cigarettes contain loads of toxic chemicals that are injurious to brain health and their buildup in the body leads to long-term memory problems. This promotes forgetfulness, attention deficit, and cripples prospective memory –  a type of memory we use to perform a planned task and remember important meetings.  

smoking memory

Vitamin Deficiencies

A deficiency of Vitamin B1 and B12 can lead to forgetfulness. The absorption of vitamin B1 from the intestine is inhibited by excess alcohol intake, depriving the drinker of this essential vitamin and can even lead to Wernicke’s encephalopathy – a type of dementia characterized by confusion, gait disturbance, and oculomotor dysfunction.

A deficiency of Vitamin B1 and B12 can lead to forgetfulness. The absorption of vitamin B1 from the intestine is inhibited by excess alcohol intake, depriving the drinker of this essential vitamin and can even lead to Wernicke’s encephalopathy – a type of dementia characterized by confusion, gait disturbance, and oculomotor dysfunction.

vitamins and memory

Vitamin B12 is required for the normal functioning and development of neurons and blood cells. It has a protective role in the brain, myelin sheath, and nerves. Vitamin B12 supplements are sometimes used to treat forgetfulness, poor concentration, Alzheimer’s disease and also to boost energy levels, and mood.

Head injury

A sudden blow on the head and the person loses orientation in space and time sounds like a movie scene but it is not far away from reality. While Traumatic head injuries and concussion can lead to short-term memory problems, they also make a person susceptible to dementia over the span of years, especially in older people.  

Infections

Infections can also lead to forgetfulness especially in older people. Some signs of Urinary tract infections include mental fog, behavioral changes, confusion, and depression. Sometimes, delirium is the only symptom of an infection which is a sudden change in ability to process things. Dementia due to infections is reversible and many patients recover fully after a course of antibiotics.  

Organs dysfunction

A buildup of waste products of metabolism can severely impact the functioning of brain cells. Kidney’s are responsible for the elimination of toxic metabolites from the body. Renal shutdown either due to acute or chronic renal failure can lead to mental confusion, forgetfulness, and dementia – more pronounced in people with albuminuria.

Liver is the metabolic factory of the body and liver failure can cause the release of toxins into the blood, leading to a brain disorder; Hepatic Encephalopathy – a neuropsychiatric condition characterized by impaired memory, and a depressed level of consciousness.

Thyroid disorders including both the hypo- and hyperthyroidism can cause mental confusion, forgetfulness, sluggish behavior and clouding of consciousness. Such conditions are reversible and resolve after treatment.

Dementia

Dementia is a general term used for neurological conditions that lead to a decline in cognitive functions. It is the loss of intellectual functioning and behavioral abilities that severely affect a person’s life. The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss.

The difference between forgetfulness and dementia lies in the severity of cognitive impairment. While forgetfulness can be taken as a physiological reduction in brain functions due to aging, dementia is a pathological condition involving an accelerated decline in brain functions. Although some symptoms may overlap, forgetfulness never progresses to cause serious risks, unlike dementia which gets worse over the course of time. Constantly worrying about something or being overwhelmed by a tragedy can lead to a shift of focus and a tendency to forget things. The difference between the two closely related entities is tabulated below.

Forgetfulness Dementia
Slipping a word sometimes Difficulty having a conversation
Forgetting appointment or location Forgetting names of loved ones
Sometimes forgetting which day is it Disorientation of place and time
Jumping to wrong judegement once in a while Making bad decisions most of the time

The most common causes of dementia are:

1.    Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s the most common type of dementia. The disease starts with anterograde memory loss – forgetting recent events – and gradually progresses to involve long-term memory also. People with Alzheimer’s disease have a problem keeping track of time, rational thinking, emotions and do tasks that make no sense at all. The 4 A’s of Alzheimer’s disease are Amnesia, Aphasia, Apraxia, and Agnosia.

Amnesia is the term used for the loss of memories. Unlike dementia, Amnesia is not accompanied by any other symptoms of cognitive impairment. Amnesia can occur in Alzheimer’s disease, encephalitis, stroke, celiac disease, oxygen deprivation, medications, seizures, and head injuries.

Aphasia is the inability to indulge in communication or find “right words” to express ideas and feelings. It doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence and behavior at all. The reason for Aphasia is stroke or damage to part of the brain that is involved in the comprehension of words. Aphasia can also be due to a brain tumor, infections, epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease.[1] 

  • Apraxia

Apraxia is a disorder of motor area of the brain in which a person is unable to perform voluntary motor functions. Apraxia can result in frequent falls, difficulty in doing daily tasks such as walking, bathing, and eating.

  • Agnosia

The inability to recognize or process information relating to the sense of smell, taste, vision, hearing, and touch. The underlying cause of agnosia is damage to the parietal or temporal lobe of the brain, disrupting pathways involved in primary sensory processing.

2.    Lewy body dementia

Lewy bodies are the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain tissue contributing to Parkinson’s disease. Lewy body dementia is a combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s symptoms characterized by spastic rigidity and memory problems respectively.

3.    Frontotemporal dementia

The frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are responsible for personality, emotions, and communications made by a person. Frontotemporal dementia is an umbrella term used to indicate deterioration of frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. FTD is characterized by changes in behavior, memory problems,  cognitive impairment, and lack of feelings and emotions.

4.    Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia also called Post-stroke dementia can occur due to brain damage after a cerebrovascular accident. A sudden blockage in the blood supply to the part of brain storing memory of events can lead to forgetfulness. Vascular dementia can lead to lapses in memory, disrupt cognition and impair reasoning and thinking depending on part of the brain affected by the stroke.

Am I suffering from memory problems?

Forgetfulness can really change a person’s life. Tearing the whole house down looking for things and then finding them in your own pocket is a part of the normal decline in memory attributed to aging. Forgetting where you placed your keys every once in a while or failing to recall the important formulas during exams has put everyone in agony at least once in their lifetime. Such incidences of forgetfulness and memory black-outs – which do not affect the lifestyle, upset social relations or handicap the ability to work – are considered normal.

Trouble remembering the date or time of the year, calling one thing another, or slipping into poor judgments more often is the paradigm of serious memory problems. There is no distinct line between normal and abnormal forgetfulness but often the memory problems that impair cognitive functioning and severely impact interpersonal relationships are considered abnormal

memory problems

The ability to remember varies from person to person too. You may have a really good memory but fretting over the exceptionally good memory of your colleague.

COGNITY is a mobile app developed to let the users test the cognitive impairment and dementia risk very accurately. It is very convenient to use this application and test the mental abilities at home at a time of your own choosing. The link to the app is https://cognity.app

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