You walk into the kitchen only to realize you have no idea why you’re there, forget the name of someone you just met, start driving only to realize you forgot how to get to where it is that you’re going. Such lapses are usually attributed to an overload of information, but from time to time, other things hinder your ability to remember. Here are the 13 most common causes of memory lapses.
1. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Similar to iron, B12 aids in the creation of red blood cells, reduces lethargy and the risk of anemia, and improves vital memory processes. A recent study found that vitamin B12 deficiency may result in erratic memory.
The research found that B12 works as a protective layer for myelin – the substance that coats our nerves. When there isn’t enough B12 in your system, the layer is not thick enough and gets damaged. This damage slows down nerve impulses, which can also lead to memory lapses.
B12 deficiency can be caused by old age – the older we get, our stomach secretes less acid, making it harder for our bodies to absorb nutrients from food. Another cause can be unhealthy diet choices, anemia, and Crohn’s disease. B12 is most common in fish, meat, and dairy, so consult your doctor about the best source of B12 for you.
2. High Blood Pressure
If you’re under 45 and tend to be “forgetful”, you may want to test your blood pressure. In research conducted at the University of Alabama, it was found that people who have higher blood pressure tend to suffer from memetic lapses, as well as a decrease in cognitive skills, when compared to people with normal blood pressure.
High blood pressure damages the inner walls of the arteries, causing them to tear and form scar tissue, which hardens the arteries. Harder arteries allow less blood to travel through them, reducing the amount needed for the brain to function properly, and may lead to memory problems.
The good news is that a healthy diet, physical exercise and weight loss can help reduce the risk of such arterial hardening.
If you’re tired, gaining weight, feeling depressed and your memory is on the fritz, you may be suffering from hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism often occurs slowly and gradually, lowering the levels of the hormone thyroxine (T4), which has a critical role in our body’s energy production. Low T4 causes a slower metabolism and slower cognitive functions, causing lapses in memory.
Common causes of hypothyroidism can be autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, where the body attacks itself. Alternatively, viral infections and even abuse of antibiotics may also induce hypothyroidism.
A common theory that makes the connection between forgetfulness and menopause with women was recently corroborated. Research conducted by the University of California confirms that as estrogen levels dwindle, memory lapses tend to occur. Estrogen protects neurotransmitters, and without it, they become less efficient. Such cases can be treated with HRT.
If you suffer from migraines, you may be at risk of suffering from Transient Global Amnesia (TGA) in your fifties. TGA is a state where a person cannot recall events from the previous day, cannot remember where they are or how they got there while still remembering who they are and who other people are.
It is customary to see this type of amnesia as a result of a genetic flaw, leading to a spread of nerve impulses in the brain. TGA can temporarily paralyze the memory, and just like migraines, can be triggered by sudden immersion in hot or cold water, extreme emotional distress, or even sexual intercourse. Luckily, TGA is not very common, rarely occurs more than once in a lifetime and is reversible.
6. Long Flights
Long flights can leave us exhausted and weary. These symptoms are usually caused by inconsistent sleep patterns, as well as jet lag.
Research conducted at the University of California showed that the feeling of drowsiness, memory lapses and the difficulty in processing information can extend for quite some time after the flight, and even after the feelings of jet lag have passed. When we sleep, our hippocampus processes our memories, so insufficient sleep can cause memory lapses.
Pregnant women are often stigmatized as having bad memory, but in recent research conducted in Australia, researchers compared the performance of pregnant vs. non-pregnant women. The results were conclusive – pregnant women under-performed in memory-related tasks when compared to their non-pregnant counterparts. Researchers hypothesized that the reasons are the changes in lifestyle and diet.
Another unpleasant side effect of chemotherapy is memory loss, often referred to as chemo-brain by patients. The chemotherapy can affect the way brain cells function, as shown in a Stanford University study that showed how women who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer also suffered memory lapses when compared with those who did not engage in chemotherapy.
This is usually a reversible situation, and memory functions return to normal once chemo is concluded, but in some cases the improvement takes years. Taking aspirin, which increases the blood flow to the brain, can be a good way to prevent or treat “chemo brain”, but you should first consult with your oncologist.
When undergoing major operations, anesthesia is often the only way a patient can go through the procedure without suffering major trauma. The downside is possible memory loss and reduced cognitive functions in the days following the operation. The University of Florida found that about 40% of patients who were over 60, suffered from memory loss after an operation, and 12.7% suffered serious cognitive problems in the following 3 months.
Epilepsy is a type of “short circuit” in the brain, causing seizures, and affects over 50 million people worldwide. During an episode, electrical impulses in the brain get redirected, leading to problems such as temporary loss of motor skills, loss of cognitive function and, memory loss.
11. Arthritis and Asthma Medication
Corticosteroids are steroids the body produces, and can be taken as treatment of asthma and arthritis. Intake of high doses for a duration of six months or more may lead to memory problems.
Despite being a rare occurrence, corticosteroids can actually kill brain cells and cause cerebral atrophy in the hippocampus, in particular. Changing the dosage can help, but your physician should be consulted with in regards to other possible side effects.
Depression is associated with low levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin or norepinephrine. These chemicals can affect memory-related processes in the brain. Antidepressants and/or psychological treatment can help with memory problems.
13. Excessive Alcohol Consumption
The more alcohol you consume, the less capable your brain is of storing short term memories. Alcohol affects the hippocampus, reducing its functions, including the formation of new memories, which is why we sometimes forget what we did after we drink.
Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to Korsakoff’s syndrome, where the ability to form short-term memories is lost, making it difficult to recall recent information. A slow, controlled rehabilitation can stop the process of memory loss for at least 25% of patients.