Memory refers to our ability to recall things in the immediate or distant past.
Most of us take this for granted unless we are stressed to recall things – for example in preparing for an examination, an interview; or if you are a witness giving evidence in a court case!
But generally, we use our memory easily every day!
It’s a safe bet that as you are reading this article; certain things are flashing in your mind as you draw information from past experience to either agree (or disagree!) with some of its content.
But what happens when we lose our memory?
From a lot of research, we know quite a lot about this and how it happens.
How Memory loss happens
We know that the ability to create, store and process thoughts that make up a memory are controlled by the brain.
It follows that damage or injury to the brain will result in memory loss.
The degree of loss will depend on the extent of brain involvement.
Unfortunately in some cases, memory loss is irreversible and there is no treatment.
In others, it is possible to recapture the memory completely – the extent depends on what has caused memory change in the first place.
Below, we will talk about common – and less common causes of memory problems and their treatment.
Conditions associated with Memory loss.
Let’s look at this topic by considering causes that result in (i) permanent memory loss and (ii) temporary memory loss.
Another term for memory loss is amnesia.
Permanent Memory Loss
- This is a complex medical condition that has several causes.
- Essentially in Dementia, there is progressive damage to brain cells that is irreversible.
- In some cases, we do not know WHAT triggers the disease to the brain; although it could be genetic (Alzheimer’s Dementia).
- In other cases, we know that conditions like Stroke or Parkinson’s Disease could lead to other forms of Dementia.
- Treating Dementia involves a combination of different measures.
- Medicines, alternative therapies including structured activity and supportive care can contribute to managing some of the symptoms of Dementia.
- In addition to memory loss, personality changes, there is also a loss of the ability to function independently in nearly all spheres of life.
- To date, we have no cure for dementia, but there are some drugs that could slow the rate of decline of the disease.
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- This happens following a severe injury like a high impact fall or car accident.
- The result is damage to brain cells which results in memory loss to different degrees, for which there is at yet no treatment.
- Chronic (long-term) Alcoholic Disease.
- One of the very serious side effects of regular excessive alcohol use is permanent memory loss.
- Known as Korsakoff’s syndrome, it happens for a number of reasons.
- These include a deficiency of Vitamin B caused by excessive alcohol misuse;
- The direct toxic effect of Alcohol on brain cells; the possibility of traumatic brain injury from falls or accidents when drunk;
- Or even the stress of repeated intoxication and withdrawal.
- Psychotropic substance misuse
- Simply, these are illicit drugs that are known to stimulate the brain and create temporary ‘highs’.
- Taken repeatedly over time, they can affect a person’s memory in ways that could be irreversible depending on the extent/duration of their use.
- Complications of brain surgery
- Rarely, surgery involving the brain may be associated with injury to brain cells affecting the memory.
- It may not be possible to reverse the problem, but courses of physical and mental therapy may contribute to recovery.
Temporary Memory Loss
- Temporary head injury
- On some occasions, injury from a bump or blow to the head (concussion) can lead to memory loss.
- The brain cells may be inflamed or swollen for some days or weeks after which they recover without treatment to normal memory
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD
- PTSD is a condition that occurs after a severe physical or emotional trauma.
- There may be memory impairment associated with other features of PTSD.
- Some other mental health conditions
- Apart from Dementia, some other conditions could affect the memory
- When a person suffers from moderate or severe depression, they may have problems with memory.
- The difficulty with memory may be reversed if the depression is treated.
The loss of memory is distressing for the person and those around them.
As there are several causes, it is important to bring any concerns about memory loss quickly to the attention of your doctor so that any necessary tests are carried out.
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
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