10 conditions that cause memory loss

Not being able to recall an actor’s name or where you set down your keys is not always a major concern, but if these incidents are happening often — or causing you to forget life’s more important details — it’s understandable to worry.

Memory loss can have a major impact on a person’s wellbeing, and while it is most often associated with Alzheimer’s disease in older people, there are many conditions that can lead to forgetfulness for people of any age.

10 conditions that may lead to memory loss

Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is likely the most familiar cause of memory loss, as it impacts over 6 million Americans today and has a continually growing patient population. While Alzheimer’s currently has no known cure, researchers are working continuously to increase what we know about this mysterious condition.

Depression. Depression does not just impact a person’s mood and quality of life — it has also been linked to short-term memory loss, in addition to general forgetfulness and confusion. Depression can also impact your ability to focus, which can make it more difficult to form new memories.

Head injury. Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, can lead to memory loss, amnesia, confusion, and issues retaining new information. In minor head injuries this is usually temporary, but more serious injuries may lead to lasting issues.

Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease is typically thought of for how it impacts motor symptoms and causes tremors, but it can also have an impact on cognitive function. Memory loss and dementia are common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, especially in its later stages.

Hyperthyroidism. The thyroid, a gland in the throat that regulates growth and development hormones, can impact energy, concentration, and memory. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can lead to these symptoms, often referred to as brain fog, and can mimic the symptoms of dementia in extreme cases.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is a condition that is worse than memory loss from normal aging, but not as severe as Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms such as forgetfulness, disorientation, and difficulty making decisions are often common with MCI.

Silent stroke. Strokes are known to cause changes in mental function, but a silent stroke can also lead to more subtle memory problems. If the stroke impacts smaller blood vessels, memory loss can begin to occur subtly and gradually, as the brain is heavily reliant on blood flow to function properly.

Alcoholism. Excessive alcohol use can have a negative impact on both short- and long-term memory, as it slows the communication between nerves in our brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a significant role in forming and maintaining memories, so people may forget things that happen while they are impaired. Additionally, heavy alcohol use can actually destroy nerve cells in this area of the brain, leading to more serious, long-term memory loss.

Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is associated with both memory loss and dementia, which is unsurprising given that the brain processes new memories while we sleep. When untreated, sleep apnea can have a major impact on spatial navigational memory, the kind of memory that allows people to remember where objects sit in relation to other items or places. 

Nutritional deficiency. A diet that is not well-rounded can have a negative impact on brain health. There are many vitamins and nutrients that impact our ability to store and retain memories, but B1 and B12 are particularly important to our memory’s function.

While it is normal to have more issues surrounding memory loss with age, if you’re concerned about your level of forgetfulness, it can be a good idea to talk with your doctor. This can help you learn more about some conditions that cause memory loss, and consider if medication side effects or other factors may play a role in your forgetfulness. If you or a loved one is interested in taking part in research that can help experts learn more about memory loss and its related causes, consider searching for a clinical trial near you today.