top of page

5 Common Reasons for Memory Loss

Over the past year the number of persons suffering from memory loss has increased. While, no statistics have been located to the question as to whether this represents a trend, it’s quite disturbing.

The average person fears a diagnosis Alzheimer’s disease, and rightfully so. If you have difficulty remembering things, your mind may make the leap to Alzheimer’s disease, too. However, that’s not the only cause of memory loss in adults.

Some people dismiss memory problems as a normal part of aging, but what most people do not know is that memory loss can be caused by prescription drugs and medications.

If it’s about your parents, it is best to check their medications against the Beers List. This is a list of medications that older adults should avoid or use with caution. If medicine is found on the list, plan on asking the doctor to clarify the likely benefit, along with the risk. The likely benefit is often smaller than people realize.

“Patients might experience memory loss and describe their symptoms similarly, but a doctor can tease apart what parts of the brain are affected,” says Dr. Seth Gale, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He added that things like poly pharmacy, significant depression and poor sleep can lead to memory complaints.

The 5 more common reasons are:

Sleep Apnea

If you wake up with a headache, have daytime fatigue, and your partner complains of loud snoring you may have sleep apnea. Make an appointment with your PCP to describe what was told to you. This type of problem may affect special navigational memory such as being able to remember directions or where you put things like your keys. The research has suggested that rapid eye movement (deep sleep) plays an important role in memory.

It is thought that in sleep apnea, oxygen delivery to the brain is interrupted several hundred times during the night. “The brain is stressed, so people wake up,” says Constantine Lyketsos, M.D. director of the Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine and professor and chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview.

Silent Stroke

There are over all changes in the ability to think and move normally which typically comes from strokes that block major brain blood vessels.

The outcome of this may range from mild to severe. Mild memory problems can also develop gradually after silent strokes that affect smaller blood vessels. Our brain is vulnerable to blocked or reduced blood flow depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. The changes in brain function can range from mild to severe and are called vascular cognitive impairment. People with memory loss are at greater risk for stroke. Forgetfulness may be an early warning sign of a stroke.


Memory loss could be an indication that your medication needs adjusting. The FDA lists several types of drugs that can affect memory, such as: sleeping pills, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, some painkillers, cholesterol-lowering medication, and diabetes medication.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, may also increase the risk for reversible cognitive side effects. These include memory loss and confusion.

One day in 1999, former NASA astronaut Duane Graveline, M.D, then 68 years old, returned home from his morning walk in Merritt Island, Fla., and could not remember where he was. His wife stepped outside, and he greeted her as a stranger. When Graveline’s memory returned some six hours later in the hospital, he racked his brain to figure out what might have caused this terrifying bout of amnesia. Only one thing came readily to mind: he had recently started taking the statin drug Lipitor.

He had one more such event when, on the urging of his colleague and physician, he went back on Lipitor. This time, he went on to write Lipitor, Thief of Memory (2010) and two other books in support of his statin research.

The FDA has also issued the same warning about the type 2 diabetes drug, Metformin.

Nutritional Deficiency

Dementia and confusion is caused by a deficiency of B12. The daily requirement is about 2.4 micrograms from natural sources like dairy products, meat, fish or from fortified foods like cereals.

Stress, Anxiety and Depression – Today, there is an amazing amount of stress a person is subjected to. Such significant stress can lead to problems with attention and memory. Dr. Lyketsos reports this to be common amongst people who are juggling home and work responsibilities along with poor sleep. The memory is restored when the stress is eased. Untreated chronic stress can lead to depression which affects brain function. A mood disorder may improve wth medication and counseling, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Other Not So Common Causes Of Memory Problems

Infection – memory loss may be attributed to severe inflammation and infection around the brain. For example, meningitis.

Head injury – A mild brain injury like a concussion may give rise to confusion and trouble with memory and concentration.

Tumors – The ability to process information and memory may be affected by brain tumors. Also the treatment for a tumor such as surgery, chemo or radiation therapy.

Substance abuse and alcoholism – both affect memory. Researchers have found that men who drank heavily showed signs of mental decline one to 6 years earlier than light drinkers.

Credit to Mary Elizabeth Dallas, writer for Healthy Living and Dr. Farrokh Sohrabi

Recent Posts

See All

Are You Forgetting… Your Memory?

We all forget. As we get older most of the fleeting memory problems we experience are simply normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes slow certain cognitive processes m


bottom of page