Short term memory loss means of course the loss of memory over a short term period. Someone with short term memory loss who had their long term memory still intact then might find that they were able to recall the names of everyone they knew, how to play the piano and what school they went to, but not what it was that they were just supposed to be doing...
In severe cases it is possible for brain damage to completely destroy short term memory and this can result in people who are 'stuck' in a certain time period without the ability to form new memories. This is severe 'anterograde amnesia' and is often a result of brain damage to the regions of the brain associated with 'episodic' memory (narrative memory essentially) which are the medial temporal lobes and the hippocampus. This damage could be the result of Alzheimer's, of physical trauma or of virus. In one of the most well known cases one 'Clive Wearing' incurred damage to his brain resulting in both anterograde and retrograde amnesia leaving him stuck in 1985. Every day he wakes up he does so unaware of his condition, yet his procedural memory remains intact allowing him to play the piano and even learn new music. This all suggests a very modular brain in which specific functions are carried out independently by separate parts of the brain.
Every Day Short Term Memory Loss
Of course this is highly unusual, and if you're reading this article (which it's safe to say you are... ) then chances are it's because you're worried about a slightly milder effect. Perhaps you keep losing your car keys, perhaps you can't for the life of you remember people's names five minutes after being introduced to them, or perhaps you pause mid conversation trying to remember what it was you were going to say...
If that describes a typical afternoon for you then you will know how much a frustration it can be to have to deal with short term memory loss and you might be wondering what was causing it – and especially if this seems to be getting worse which might be somewhat alarming.
Fear not though, as there are many things that can cause short term memory loss and forgetfulness and many of these are easy to control. Here we will look at some of the causes of short term memory loss.
Cortisol is often referred to as the 'stress hormone' and along with adrenaline it is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. This substance is useful when we're running away from lions (which happens less and less these days) but too much can be bad for you and can affect cognitive skills including memory abilities. As more and more of us are experiencing a lot of stress we are more and more developing a kind of middle-aged dementia which is referred to as 'mid-life memory impairment'. It's not healthy, and it's just one more reason to make sure that you look into stress management techniques and that you take measures to try and reduce the amount of stress in your daily life. Consider using CBT which can teach you to better control and react to stress. Depression can also result in memory loss and general confusion.
Closely related to stress is another problem that can cause forgetfulness – which is being distracted by something that takes too much of your attention away. There is an awful lot of stimulus around us and even more than normal these days and all of it is fighting for our attention – so it's no wonder that we occasionally forget appointments. Likewise our own thoughts can distract us if we are ruminating on a single topic or thought.
If you are forgetting things more and more and you are middle aged or older, then chances are that you are experiencing simply the effects of aging. When we are fully grown our brain largely stops producing new brain cells (though recent studies and research have demonstrated that neurogenesis does occur still in some areas) and this means that as they die off we have fewer and fewer to work with – though it is uncertain how much this contributes to age-related cognitive decline and the exact causes of ARCD are not fully understood. Either way, it is noted that as we get older 'fluid intelligence' which is things like maths skill tends to deteriorate. The good news is though that your 'crystallized' intelligence (your knowledge essentially) improves.
You don't have to take this lying down however (unless your back is also failing you... ) and there are many ways you can prevent ARCD from taking hold. One way to prevent ARCD is to make sure to remember to use your brain regularly and to keep challenging yourself. Neuroplasticity has demonstrated that exercising areas of the brain can cause them to grow just like muscle and this can be used to prevent those areas from deteriorating (it may even be lack of use that causes some loss of memory in older age). To prevent your memory from failing you then, make sure to challenge yourself with lots of memory tasks and to stay active.
Furthermore, deleterious activities such as smoking, alcohol and a poor diet can quicken ARCD, so if you want to keep your smarts make sure to live smart too.
Korsakoff's syndrome is a form of dementia that is brought on through excessive alcohol consumption. One of the most prevalent symptoms of Korsakoff's syndrome is forgetfulness and memory impairment. This is only really a concern for those who are very heavy regular drinkers such as alcoholics and won't affect those who just drink sociably occasionally. It is a serious condition however and an important reason to limit alcohol intake.
Likewise alcohol of course affects memory while we are drinking it and this is because it can shut down the higher-order functions of the brain which include the memory and attention centers. Thus your brain simply fails to commit as much information to memory as you get older.
Of course in some cases the cognitive decline is a result of a serious condition, and as you get older Alzheimer's or dementia are more likely. This is cognitive decline that occurs at a faster rate than is expected with normal age related cognitive decline. Look out for any sudden changes in memory or attention and look out for the other symptoms too such as lack of concentration and personality shifts.
Damage to certain areas in extreme cases can of course cause damage to your memory just like it did for Clive Wearing. Like Wearing this could be the result of an infection, or it might be a result of a tumor that is pressing on a certain brain area, or of a simple trauma to the head. Again if you notice any sudden changes to your ability to store information, or if anyone else does, then you should be sure to seek medical attention immediately.
A range of medications and treatments can cause memory loss as well as other psychological changes. For instance chemotherapy can sometimes lead to an effect known as 'chemo brain' which appears to be a result of alterations in hormones. If you have started a new course of medication and you are finding it harder to concentrate or access your memory, then you should speak to your doctor about altering your course.