Causes of Memory Loss

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 02 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr John Cox, 02 Jul 2017

Everybody forgets things from time to time. In general, the things that you tend to forget most easily are the things that you feel do not matter as much.

The things that you tend to remember most easily are the things that are important to you - for example, a special birthday. However, some people just seem to have a better memory than others, and some people are more forgetful than others.

There are certain situations that can affect your memory and make you become more forgetful than you normally are. They can include the following.

Poor concentration

If your concentration is poor then you do not notice things as much, and do not retain things as much as you would normally. Poor concentration can be a result of simply being bored or tired. However, it can also be a symptom of depression and anxiety.

Depression

As well as poor concentration, some people with depression also have slowed thinking. This can cause memory problems until the depression clears. Do tell a doctor if you think that you are depressed, as treatment often works well. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • A low mood for most of the time.
  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in life.
  • Abnormal sadness.
  • Weepiness.
  • Feelings of guilt or of being useless.
  • Poor motivation.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Tiredness.
  • Difficulty with affection.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Being irritable or restless.

Physical illness

If you feel ill, this can affect concentration and memory. Certain illnesses can directly affect the way your brain works. For example, an underactive thyroid can slow down your body's functions, including your brain, and can make you more forgetful. Infections such as a chest infection or a urine infection can also cause sudden confusion and memory problems, particularly in older people.

Medicines

Certain medicines can cause confusion and memory problems in some people. For example, some sedative medicines, some painkilling medicines, some medicines that are used to treat Parkinson's disease, or steroid medicines. Also, if you are taking lots of different medicines, this can increase the risk of them interacting with each other, causing problems, including confusion and memory problems.

Age

As everyone gets older, it often becomes harder to remember things. This is called age-associated memory impairment. Many people over the age of 60 have this common problem, and it is not dementia. For example, it tends to be harder to learn new skills the older you become, or you may more easily forget the names of people you have recently met. It is thought that the more you use your brain when you are older, the more it may counter the development of this age-related decline in memory function. So, doing things such as reading regularly, quizzes, crosswords, memorising plays or poetry, learning new skills, etc, may help to keep your memory in good shape.

Dementia

Dementia is the most serious form of memory problem. Causes of dementia are discussed in the next section.

Further reading and references

How does diet affect dementia?

Hey guys I’m only 18 & I have OCD, ADHD, Depression, Social anxiety and anxiety! My memory has never been the best even as a kid, but I feel like it’s getting worse (might just be anxiety tricking me...

pink48329
Health Tools

Feeling unwell?

Assess your symptoms online with our free symptom checker.

Start symptom checker
Listen