Ever since I can remember, my mother has been worrying that she was developing Alzheimer’s disease, the illness that causes rapidly deteriorating memory and has devastated so many families. She insisted all along that her memory loss was advancing and there could be no other cause, especially before she was 50. After all, what else could cause memory loss?
Although she may have been exaggerating a bit, her fears were very real. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the disease is now the 7th leading cause of death. But Alzheimer’s has symptoms other than what most of us term memory loss, like vocabulary problems, poor judgment, personality changes, difficulty with perceptual and spatial relationships, and confusion regarding time. The memory loss association with Alzheimer’s interferes with daily life, often causing dangerous conditions for the person and others around. This is a far cry from forgetting where you put your car keys.
Coronary artery disease can affect memory, as well. These types of problems restrict the blood flow to the brain, and that reduction can affect how well the mind functions.
Kidney and liver failure
Rather than not enough blood flow, kidney and liver problems can cause difficulties with cognitive function because they release toxins into the blood stream. Anemia often accompanies such problems, and they can all affect the amount of oxygen the brain receives. Less oxygen causes lower function.
Food and drink
Malnutrition affects all areas of the body, including the brain. Vitamin deficiency alone can reduce cognitive ability. And of course, overconsumption of some products can cause memory loss, especially alcohol.
Depression impairs a person’s ability to imprint events into long-term memory. If something isn’t encoded well, it is more difficult to recall.
When the body is under stress, it tries to compensate. We see this all the time. When it is trying to recuperate from horrific illness or injury, it may shut down all but the essential components of the brain and enter a coma in order to heal. When newborn babies are overstimulated, such as being carried into a mall full of bright lights and noise, they shut down by going to sleep. And when the body is under too much stress, it tries to stop using less important functions, like imprinting ideas into memory.
Memory loss is even a potential side effect of many medications, including statins for cholesterol, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids.
Knowing some of these other causes of memory loss besides Alzheimer’s may put some of your fears to rest. My mother is now in her 70s, with no signs of Alzheimer’s, and is now able to laugh off most of her forgetful moments.
If your problems with memory loss really seem to be suddenly worse and/or significantly impact your daily life, make an appointment with your doctor.
“What causes ‘memory loss’?” Health-Care-Information.org. health-care-information.org.
Alzheimer’s Association. Alz.org.
Daniel Pendick. “Depression and Memory.” Memorylossonline.com.