Memory Loss: 9 Causes (& How to Treat)

Memory loss can occur for many reasons, like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, medication use, hypothyroidism, infections or neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Depending on the underlying cause, memory loss can also present with other symptoms, such as excessive fatigue, irritation, body aches, feeling empty, and tingling in the hands, legs or feet. 

Most causes are preventable or reversible through lifestyle changes, meditation, relaxation techniques and memory training. However, if your memory loss persists or gradually worsens with times, you should a neurologist or geriatrician to investigate the possible causes and start the most appropriate treatment.

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What causes memory loss?

Memory loss may be a result of:

1. Stress and anxiety

Anxiety is the main cause of memory loss, especially in young people. Moments of stress can activate many neurons and regions of the brain at the same time, which can lead to confusion and difficulty performing even a simple task, such as remembering. Learn more about other symptoms of stress and how it can present.

Therefore, if you are undergoing stress or anxiety, it is common to have sudden memory loss in certain situations, like during an oral presentation, a test or after a stressful event.

Also recommended: Stress vs. Anxiety: Difference Between Symptoms & Consequences

How to treat: Optimal anxiety management will help with memory and other brain functioning. This can include participating in relaxing activities, meditation, yoga, exercise or psychotherapy sessions. Cases of intense and frequent anxiety, may require medication, like anxiolytics, as prescribed by a doctor. Learn more about the anxiety medication your doctor may consider. 

2. Lack of attention

The simple lack of attention to an activity or situation can make you forget information much faster. When you are very distracted, it is easier to forget details such as an address, telephone number or where you kept your keys, for example. This is not necessarily related to a health problem.

How to treat: Memory and concentration can be trained  with exercises and activities that activate the brain, such as reading a book, taking a new course or simply playing crosswords. Meditation is also an mental exercise that stimulates and promotes focus.

3. Depression

Depression and other psychiatric illnesses such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety or bipolar disorder are illnesses that can cause attention deficit and affect the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, These conditions are often linked to memory loss, and can often be confused with Alzheimer's disease. 

Learn more about other symptoms that may occur with depression.

How to treat: Treatment with antidepressants or other medications, as prescribed by a doctor, can help to improve symptoms like memory problems. Psychotherapy is also an important aspect in treatment. Read more about how how to cure depression and the treatment approaches available.

Also recommended: Natural Antidepressants: 7 Home Recipes (to Complement Treatment)

4. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is another common cause of of memory loss. When left untreated or not adequately treated, it causes a slowdown in metabolism, which can impair brain function.

Generally, memory loss from hypothyroidism is accompanied by other symptoms such as excessive sleep, dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair, depression, difficulty concentrating and intense tiredness.

How to treat: Treatment is oriented by a family doctor or endocrinologist using levothyroxine. Dosing depends on the severity of disease and thyroid hormone levels. A hypothyroidism diet may also be beneficial in managing this condition.

5. Low vitamin B12 levels

Low vitamin B12 levels, or a vitamin B12 deficiency, can occur in vegans who do not supplement this vitamin adequately, people with malnutrition, alcoholics or people who have changes in their stomach's absorption capacity (like people who have undergone bariatric surgery). This is a vitamin that is acquired through a balanced diet and is easily found in meat. 

Also recommended: Top 16 Vitamin B12 Foods (& Recommended Daily Dose)

A lack of this vitamin can alter brain functioning, and impair memory and reasoning.

How to treat: This vitamin can be supplemented by increasing intake of vitamin B12 foods and with oral supplements. Those with abnormalities in stomach absorption may be prescribed B12 injections to ensure adequate levels.

6. Using anxiety medication

Some medications can cause mental confusion and impair memory, which is more common in those who frequently use sedatives, like diazepam and clonazepam. It can also be a side effect of medications like anticonvulsants, neuroleptics and some medications for labyrinthitis.

These effects vary from person to person and can be more pronounced when medications are combined. Therefore it is always important to be forthcoming about all medications you are taking to your doctor.

How to treat: Speak to your doctor about changing or discontinuing possible medications if you notice they are causing memory loss.

7. Drug use

Excessive alcohol intake and illicit drug use (like marijuana and cocaine) can alter your level of consciousness and have a toxic effect on neurons, which can impair normal brain functioning and memory.

How to treat: It is important to stop using illicit drugs and to consume alcohol in moderation. If you have difficulty stopping, speak to your health care provider about seeking treatment for addiction and dependency. 

8. Sleeping less than 6 hours

Changes to your sleep cycle can cause memory loss and impair reasoning mechanisms in the brain. You should aim to rest for 6 to 8 hours a day in order to maintain attention and focus.

How to treat: Better sleep can be achieved with regular habits such as adopting a bedtime and waking routine, avoiding drinking coffee after 5pm, and avoiding cell phone use or watching TV in bed. More serious cases can be treated with anxiolytic medications, advised by a psychiatrist or family doctor.

Check-out other ways to fall asleep fast to ensure you get a good night's sleep.

9. Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative disease of the brain that typically occurs in the elderly. This condition is associated with gradual memory loss, and it interfere's with the person's ability to reason, understand and control behavior. 

Also recommended: 8 Classic Signs of Alzheimer’s (w/ Online Symptom Quiz)

There are also other types of dementia that can also cause memory changes,  such as vascular dementia, Parkinson's dementia or Lewy body dementia. Learn more about what causes Alzheimer's disease.

How to treat: Once diagnosed, the doctor may prescribe anticholinesterase medications, such as donepezil, in addition to activities such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy that help the patient can maintain their functioning for as long as possible.

How to improve memory naturally

Eating foods rich in omega 3, such as salmon, saltwater fish, seeds and avocado, for example, can help to boost memory and concentration. Read more about omega 3 foods that you can include in your daily diet.