It is easy to take memory for granted…until it fails. While some people can't remember where they put their car keys, others have trouble recalling a name minutes after it has been given. Fortunately, short-term memory loss is common and usually not serious. Learning more about the causes and remedies of this type of memory loss can help prevent it from occurring in the future.
Causes of Short-term Memory Loss
When oxygen to the brain is reduced, it can cause short-term memory loss. A number of medical conditions and other influences can also impair short-term memory include epilepsy, seizures, after-effects of heart bypass surgery, alcohol and drug use, concussion, depression, and dementia. Some victims of violent crimes or accidents, or people who have witnessed them, can also suffer from problems with short-term memory.
Short-term Memory vs. Long-term Memory
Recent experiences and sensory information like sights, sounds, and tastes are stored in short-term memory, which is also called working or active memory. According to data from the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University, the brain can store up to nine pieces of information in short-term memory for as little as 30 seconds or as long as several days.
Located at the front of the brain, the central executive area of the pre-frontal cortex appears to play a key role in the workings of short-term memory. Long-term memory has a much greater capacity and stores significant or learned information like meaningful experiences or studied facts. This data goes to the hippocampus area of the brain before being sent to and permanently stored in areas in the cerebral cortex responsible for language and perception.
Diagnosing Short-Term Memory Loss
When making a diagnosis regarding memory, a doctor generally takes a medical history and may ask a few memory-related questions. They may also order blood tests to check for conditions like thyroid disease or vitamin B-12 deficiency and ask patients to participate in cognitive testing. Additional tests may include an MRI, CT scan, EEG, or cerebral angiography to determine levels of blood flow to the brain. Doctors who suspect psychological trauma as a cause for memory loss may consult with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Developing Better Short-term Memory
Often, short-term memory loss is a normal byproduct of aging. A few tips and tricks can help aging individuals develop better short-term memory or maintain the memory they currently have. One good way to test and develop short-term memory is to have a friend or relative place 10-15 objects on a table. Then, take 30 seconds to memorize the objects before they are removed, and list the items on paper from memory. The use of mnemonics (attaching memorable words, phrases, or images) also makes a great way to remember facts, objects, or names.
Forgetting why you walked into a room can be scary, but people shouldn't panic when short-term memory fails, especially after middle age. Scheduling an appointment with a health care provider can help dispel fears. People looking to improve memory can take advantage of a few tips and tricks and engage in brain-boosting activities like Soduko, crossword puzzles, and reading.