Memory Loss: The Causes of Memory Problems

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The causes of memory problems

The normal biological changes that go hand in hand with growing older cause the memory to change as it ages.

Memory problems can be magnified under various circumstances and have different causes. There are biological causes (anaesthesia, stroke, lack of sleep, certain medications like sleeping pills or tranquilizers, fatigue, polypharmacy, diet), psychological causes (emotional shock such as grief, stress, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, lack of self-confidence) or environmental causes (isolation, change of environment, lack of stimulation).

Your general health is a factor as well. Having diabetes, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure or hyperglycemia can also affect your memory.

Retirement and memory problems

When you stop going to work every day, your memory can be affected because it isn’t getting the same level of stimulation. Having contact with other people, following work guidelines, meeting professional obligations, keeping appointments, and remembering your clients’ names were all factors that kept your memory working fine, perhaps without you even being aware of it. So it’s important to find other ways to stimulate your memory. Social activities and hobbies can help. It’s also important to pursue projects and continue feeling useful. For instance, you could volunteer, take a course, plan a trip, start an exercise program or get involved in your community. Social and sensory stimulation improve your learning capabilities and your memory.

Memory and sleep

A good memory requires rest: during sleep, the brain processes the day’s events and the information that has been recorded. A lack of sleep, sleeping disorders and taking sleeping pills can inhibit your memory from functioning properly.

Menopause and memory problems

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs at menopause can cause various problems that can play tricks on your memory. Hot flashes often affect the quality of your sleep, and this lack of sleep can, in turn, take a toll on your memory. Post-menopause often coincides with winding down or ending your professional career, which can also have a negative impact on your memory.

Isolation: one of your memory’s worst enemies

As people get older, they often find themselves alone (they’ve moved, retired, or are living far away, spouse has passed away), become more isolated or feel they have no social purpose. Gradually, their memory is put to work less and less. Even though memory exercises can help, it’s far more important to break the isolation and create opportunities to see, listen, and talk to people. Staying active by joining an association, helping out at a school, taking courses, or joining an outing club are excellent ways of doing what you can to maintain your memory.

Memory complaints shouldn’t be downplayed as they are a risk factor for memory disease. Prevention is important. Consulting a health professional could help you preserve your memory.

My memory is NOT going to get lazy if I start using a day planner or leaving myself little notes.

It’s an efficient strategy to use a day planner to note down your appointments, your to-do list, and the phone calls you need to make. Simply noting down this kind of information increases your chances of remembering it when you need to. These memory aids also provide a routine and framework that will help reduce your stress, which itself can cause you to forget important things!

Next: Prevention and Treatment of Memory Problems


We are pleased to house this series of FAQs supervised by Cara Tannenbaum, from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

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