What Causes Memory Loss and Forgetfulness?

Whether you’ve lost your cell phone or forgot to call someone back, it’s likely that you’ve experienced a bout of short-term memory loss. It’s common for people of all ages to experience minor lapses in memory. Once a person reaches a certain age, what was once a casual case of forgetfulness can be a symptom of a more serious issue such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of Dementia.

However, this isn’t always the case. In this blog post, we’ll explore some common short-term memory loss causes and discuss ways to improve or maintain cognitive function.  

What Causes Short-Term Memory Loss?

There are several potential causes of short-term memory loss, including:

  • Stress and anxiety can affect the brain’s ability to store and retrieve information.
  • Sleep deprivation can impair our cognitive function, throwing off the normal process of using NREM and REM sleep for building and retaining memories.
  • Alcohol and drug use can destroy brain tissue and lead to several types of memory loss, both long and short-term. 
  • Medications, such as benzodiazepines and antihistamines, can cause short-term memory loss as a side effect.
  • Brain injuries such as concussions and other physical trauma can cause amnesia.
  • Chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease can affect the brain by damaging nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to memory loss.
  • Nutritional deficiencies can impair brain function. Common deficiencies include B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

What Causes Age-Related Memory Loss?

Many factors that cause short-term memory loss can also cause age-related memory loss. Chronic health conditions or poor long-term lifestyle choices are certainly contributing factors. However, some elements of age-related memory loss aren’t necessarily within our control. 


Genetics may play a role in age-related memory loss, as certain genetic variations have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline. People with certain hereditary traits are more likely to have better memory and may display attributes like being better at remembering names or being quick learners. 

Changes in Brain Structure

As we age, our brains undergo structural changes that may affect cognitive function, including memory. These changes may include a reduction in the number of neurons and connections between them, as well as a decrease in the production of certain chemicals that are involved in memory and learning.

Decreased Blood Flow

Older adults may experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can affect cognitive function and memory. As we age, our blood vessels may become stiffer, limiting their ability to expand and contract in response to changes in blood flow. This can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain and other organs, which can impact brain cell function and survival. Decreased blood flow to the brain can also lead to the accumulation of toxic substances, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of Dementia.

Identifying Short-Term Memory Loss vs. Dementia 

Short-term memory loss and dementia are two distinct conditions, but it’s understandable to confuse short-term memory loss symptoms with early signs of Dementia. It’s important to understand the differences between the two in order to properly identify and treat the condition.

Short-term memory loss is usually temporary and may resolve on its own or with treatment, depending on the cause. Dementia, on the other hand, is a group of conditions that impact cognitive function, including memory, thinking, and behavior. Dementia is usually progressive, meaning it gets worse over time, and it can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but there are other types as well.

Signs of Forgetfulness That Aren’t Dementia Symptoms

So, how do you know if your aging loved one is showing signs of Dementia or just normal age-related forgetfulness? Below is a list of symptoms that aren’t typically considered warning signs of Dementia. Of course, it is always best to get a doctor’s opinion to be safe.

  • Occasionally losing things they use frequently, like the TV remote or keys.
  • Forgetting the name of someone they’ve only met a few times, or calling children/grandchildren by a different child/grandchild’s name.
  • Getting distracted easily.
  • Having trouble remembering the details of a conversation.
  • Forgetting a doctor’s appointment.

When to Be Concerned

The main difference between short-term and age-related memory loss versus Dementia is that the latter prevents them from living their everyday life. Forgetfulness in older adults is always something that should be monitored in case it gets worse. However, as long as these normal temporary memory lapses have little to no impact on the person’s ability to function and take care of themselves, you probably don’t need to fear the worst is happening. 

Again, it’s always wise to get the opinion and advice of a doctor, and it’s never too early to make lifestyle changes that support cognitive function. Staying mentally active, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can help to improve or maintain cognitive function. 

Maintaining a Mentally Active Lifestyle 

Whether your loved one is experiencing normal age-related forgetfulness or has been diagnosed with a form of Dementia, New Perspective has a community that fits their needs. From vibrant independent living to specialized, comforting memory care facilities, you can rest easy knowing that your parent has a place they love to call home. Contact us today to learn more about our communities.