Signs and causes of memory loss

You’ve likely experienced mild forgetfulness at some time or other. You’ve misplaced items at home. You’ve missed an appointment. You didn’t return an important phone call. You forgot certain groceries for a favourite recipe perhaps?

As you get older, such memory lapses can seem more frequent. And memory loss in the elderly is quite common.

Memory loss

But when should you worry? When should you seek help and advice? And how can you distinguish mild memory loss from the start of a more serious problem like dementia?

What Should You Look Out For?

Occasional episodes of memory loss are common; they are rarely serious. However, there are subtle signs to watch out for. Here are some of the questions you should think about:

  • Have you noticed episodes of memory loss happening repeatedly?
  • Have your family commented about your memory loss?
  • Have you been told that you often repeat questions?
  • Have your friends mentioned your memory loss to you?
  • Have they seemed concerned about your memory loss?

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, it’s worth discussing your memory loss further with your GP.

If memory loss has caused you to worry about early dementia, there are some other signs to watch for too. Dementia not only causes memory loss; it can also cause problems with planning and judgment. For example, do you get distracted easily? Do you struggle with routine chores? Do you find it harder to keep track of finances lately?

Interestingly, the fact that you are reading this memory loss webpage might itself be a cause for concern! You may already be worried about your own episodes of memory loss. Scientists call this ‘subjective memory impairment.’ A recent study found that people with subjective memory impairment are, over many years, five times more likely to develop dementia than those without such memory loss complaints.

So, it’s important to pay attention to early signs of memory loss, and to seek advice from your GP if you are at all concerned.

Losing Your Memory – A Sufferer’s Point of View

It’s a well-known saying: “Prevention is better than cure.”

Sadly though, some people just put up with memory loss, and then seek help too late.

Here is a story for you:

A 65 year old man had memory loss symptoms. After five years, his wife finally persuaded him to see their GP. She was concerned. He had a family history of dementia.

His memory loss was noticed by work colleagues; he arrived at work for the wrong shift. Worse still, when made redundant he carried on turning up for work.

Some days his memory was better than others. But gradually his memory loss became more noticeable. And friends and family told him so.

He became more withdrawn and reluctant to leave home. But he still went shopping with his wife.

More worryingly, he began to struggle finding his way around home, and became lost on car journeys to familiar places. His personality changed too. He became aggressive and argumentative; not his usual friendly and placid self.

His memory for recent events got worse; sometimes he even forgot that he had just eaten. He mowed his lawn, but otherwise lost interest in gardening. He would sit down to read a book, but frequently held it upside down.

He became unable to change TV channels. Or follow his favourite shows. His number skills worsened, and he found it harder to deal with home finances.

Although fictitious, this case history shows some of the features that should raise concerns about memory loss.

What Are The Causes of Memory Loss?

Memory loss in the elderly is common with advancing age. Did you know that your brain actually shrinks as you get older? But these changes aren’t inevitable. Many memory loss causes can be treated. And the earlier you act, the better your chances of saving your memory.

Common causes of memory loss include:

Drugs: Did you know that prescription and over-the-counter items can affect your concentration and cause memory loss? Such side effects are more common with age. This is because your body processes drugs more slowly as you get older. Many frequently used drugs can affect your memory. These include:

  • Cholesterol lowering tablets such as statins
  • Sleeping tablets
  • Anti-histamines
  • Blood pressure tablets
  • Arthritis treatments
  • Antidepressants

Even commonly used painkillers such as codeine can cause memory loss. Some antacids and diabetes drugs can also impair the absorption of vitamin B12 - a vital vitamin for a healthy brain.

Alcohol: We all know that too much alcohol can damage your liver, but alcohol also damages your brain cells. Alcohol abuse is one of the most increasingly common causes of memory loss. It also increases your risk of dementia. As with many things in life, moderation is the key. Experts advise limiting your daily intake to just 1-2 drinks per day. It is also recommended for you to have at least 2 or 3 days a week completely alcohol-free.

Depression: Depression is more common as you get older. And it can ,contribute to memory loss in the elderly. You may be less socially active than before, or you may experience major life changes. Retirement, loss of a loved one, financial worries or moving home are common causes.. Memory loss is a frequent feature of depression. Low mood can make it hard to concentrate, stay organized and remember things. Sometimes it can be hard to simply get things done.

Thyroid disease: The thyroid gland makes the hormone thyroxine – your body’s ‘spark plug.’ Too much thyroxine makes you confused and muddled. Too little makes you feel sluggish and depressed. Thyroid disorders are one of the causes of memory loss. They can also make it difficult for you to concentrate. This is yet another one of the reversible memory loss causes.

Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is essential for making blood cells. But did you know that it also protects your nerve cells? It is also vital for a healthy brain. In fact, over time, vitamin B12 deficiency causes permanent damage to your brain and nerve cells. B12 deficiency is very common with advancing age. Scientists think this is because older people don’t absorb nutrients and vitamins so well. This can make it difficult for you to get enough B12 for your needs. Even worse, experts now also think that your brain has a higher requirement for B12 as you get older. This is because the vitamin becomes inactive with age-related “oxidative stress.” But, if you take enough vitamin B12 and correct a deficiency early, you can reverse the associated memory problems.

Folic Acid deficiency: Like Vitamin B12, folic acid is needed to make blood cells. It is also needed for a healthy brain. It works with Vitamin B12 to make neurotransmitters - chemical signals that your nerve cells use to talk to each other. So, folic acid deficiency can affect your mood, and ultimately cause memory loss.

Vitamin B6 deficiency: Vitamin B6 helps change harmful homocysteine into glutathione - a key antioxidant needed by your brain cells. Vitamin B6 deficiency can reduce your concentration, attention, and contribute to memory loss.

High Homocysteine: Doctors have found that high levels of homocysteine can cause memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia. Homocysteine comes from breaking down protein in your food. B vitamins help you turn it into helpful compounds. Your brain then uses them to make neurotransmitters and an antioxidant called glutathione.

So, homocysteine levels rise with B vitamin deficiency, and high levels damage your nerve cells and blood vessels. Homocysteine can even kill cells, by making them vulnerable to calcium leak. High homocysteine levels also make harmful protein plaques (amyloid) form in brain tissue. Worse still, it can make delicate fibres inside your nerve cells become tangled. This damages the machinery inside them, making them grind to a halt.

High homocysteine is one of the more common memory loss causes. Fortunately, high homocysteine levels can be lowered by high dose B vitamins, and by N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in Betrinac®. NAC helps your body remove excess homocysteine in your urine.

Dehydration: Did you know that your brain is made up of 78% water? Dehydration can be quite common in the elderly, causing confusion and drowsiness. It can therefore be one of the causes of memory loss. You should always make sure you drink plenty of fluids, and you should be particularly careful if you take water tablets or laxatives. If you suffer from diabetes, diarrhea, or develop other infections, you should also be aware of the potential problem.

Diabetes: Diabetes and memory loss are closely linked. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease has recently been described as Type 3 diabetes. Your brain needs a steady supply of sugar (glucose) to use as fuel. Poorly controlled diabetes can cause memory loss and confusion. Memory loss and confusion occurs when your blood glucose is high (hyperglycemia) and when it is low (hypoglycemia).

Hypoxia (Lack of Oxygen): Your brain also needs oxygen to help burn sugar as a fuel. Low oxygen levels can cause memory loss. There are many causes of low blood oxygen levels, including:

  • Chronic lung diseases such as COPD
  • Poorly controlled asthma
  • Anaemia
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnoea

Liver and Kidney Disease: Your brain needs many other chemicals and nutrients to work properly, and your liver helps process and deliver these. However, many other chemicals can be very dangerous for your brain, and can be causes of memory loss. Your liver and kidney help remove these harmful toxins. So, chronic liver and kidney disease can be memory loss causes.

Find out more about memory loss and Homocysteine