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Seniors and Age-Related Memory Loss –10 Causes of Memory Loss


Yesterday my dad casually asked me what the topic for my next article would be. I responded, “memory loss.”  He groaned and said I was opening up a pandora’s box. Perhaps, but my intention today is to narrow my focus to only the causes of a possible problem. There is a lot of confusion and misconception about memory loss, especially when you throw in dementia and Alzheimer’s. It takes years of training and practice to differentiate among these. That is beyond the scope of my writing. Let’s just start at the beginning with a few causes and leave the rest to the experts.


Everyone has memory lapses. It’s normal, and, with age, those lapses tend to increase. Especially for seniors.  According to Steven Reinberg, a writer for Health Day News, memory loss starts to show up around age 45. “In fact,”, he reports, “one in nine Americans aged 45 and older say they are experiencing thinking declines.” It’s safe to say then, that memory loss is not confined to seniors, but can start at much younger ages. The camps on this issue seem to be divided. The report cited by Reinberg states that “symptoms of confusion and memory loss are not a normal part of aging.” I respectfully disagree, there is ample research showing that most people do indeed experience a decline in memory as they age. However, their lapses may never morph into dementia or Alzheimer’s. From the little research I have conducted, memory loss is not considered a serious problem unless it significantly interferes with accomplishing daily activities. The next logical question then is what are the causes?


  • Poor diet – Citing a study by researchers at McMaster University in Canada, The Cleveland Clinic, reported that healthy diets resulted in an appreciably lower number of people experiencing memory loss. “Your choice of diet, “stated Dr. Jagan Pillai, MD, “not only affects your heart health but also your cognition.”


  • Alcoholism – According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol consumption can affect both short- and long-term memory. “One of the most damaging side effects of chronic alcohol abuse is called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, and this is a condition directly related to alcohol and memory loss. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a disorder of the brain that’s the result of a deficiency in vitamin B1 … While there are a few other possible causes of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, alcoholism is the number one reason because people who suffer from alcoholism tend to have poor diet and alcohol also prevents their body from properly absorbing vitamin B1.”


  • SmokingNaomi Schalit, a Senior Editor for The Conversation US, cites a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), stating, “long-term smoking has been linked with reductions in working memory, prospective memory – that used for everyday tasks such as keeping an appointment or taking medication on time – and executive function, which helps us plan tasks, pay attention to current activities, and ignore distractions.”


  • Head injury – Addressing the effects on short and long-term effects of a TBI (traumatic brain injury), Tessa Hart, Ph.D., and Angelle Sander, Ph.D., cite several negative impacts on memory loss. They cite other brain injuries, like from a fall, that can also affect memory.


  • Emotional issues – Citing a number of studies, reports that depression, stress, and anxiety can all cause problems with memory.


  • Poor quality sleep – The National Sleep Foundation has links to several studies showing poor sleep habits can impact memory loss and increase the risk of dementia.


  • Deficient level of vitamin B-12Patrick J. Skerrett, writing for Harvard Health, cites that insufficiency of vitamin B 12, which is important for keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, has been linked to memory loss and a host of other serious problems.


  • Brain diseases – According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke, tumor, blood clot or other diseases can impair memory and produce dementia-like symptoms.


  • HypothyroidismPriyathama Vellanki, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism & Lipids at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, writing in Endocrine Web, states that an underactive thyroid can lead not only to memory loss but other issues as well.


  • Medication – Reporting on the link between memory loss and medication, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco’s Weill Institute confirmed that not all medications work the same for different patients. Furthermore, different medications may conflict with one another, causing memory issues.


As you see, there are many things that can cause memory loss. This is hardly a conclusive list. Other causes include Parkinson’s, lack of exercise and social isolation. My hope was to make you more aware of some of the causes and maybe give you an impetus to act and better help your client or loved one if they are experiencing memory issues. If you do suspect memory loss in yourself, a client or family member, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. Next week I will be sharing some early warning signs of memory loss/dementia.