Memory is one of the most intricate functions of the human brain and is usually separated into four categories: sensory, short-term, working, and long-term. Short-term memory generally lasts just moments but dramatically affects your daily routine.
Board-certified neurologist Dr. Andrew Lerman and his team at Gables Neurology in Miami, Florida, specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions that may affect cognitive function, including short-term memory.
Read more from our Gables Neurology team regarding short-term memory loss and what might cause this crucial process to falter.
Understanding the importance of short-term memory
Most of your daily experiences are shaped by long-term memories, such as knowing how to drive a car, how to accomplish your work tasks, or whether your youngest child prefers yellow or green foods this month.
However, short-term memory is crucial in everyday life and your ability to care for yourself and others. For instance, you use your short-term memory when baking a cake and recalling how much flour to add per the ingredient list you just read. It’s also the memory type that recalls you’ve turned on the oven, plugged in the iron, or lit a candle.
Everyone forgets now and then, but persistent struggles with short-term memory can have dramatic and sometimes dangerous effects on your quality of life and ability to live independently.
Causes of short-term memory loss
Multiple issues can affect short-term memory, including:
As you age, various structural and chemical changes occur in your brain. These changes can affect your cognitive functions, including your short-term memory. While some memory decline is expected with aging, more severe lapses could indicate conditions like dementia or Alzheimer's.
Sleep is vital for memory consolidation — the process by which short-term memories are transformed into long-term ones. A lack of restful sleep can significantly hamper your short-term memory.
Stress and anxiety
Chronic stress, or even short bursts of acute stress, can impair your brain's ability to process and retain information. The hormone cortisol, released in response to stress, can interfere with neurotransmitter function, affecting memory formation.
Some medications, including antihistamines, painkillers, and sleeping aids, can impact your short-term memory. Never stop a prescribed medication, but Dr. Lerman recommends scheduling a visit if you suspect a medicine is affecting your memory.
Also, excessive alcohol consumption and certain recreational drugs can harm your brain and impair your short-term memory. Over time, habitual use can lead to long-term memory problems.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
Accidents and other trauma resulting from a concussion can affect various cognitive functions, including short-term memory.
Thyroid disorders, vitamin B12 deficiency, and infections that affect your brain can result in memory issues.
Mental health disorders
Conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia can influence your cognitive function, including your memory.
A stroke can interrupt blood flow to parts of your brain, leading to memory problems, among other symptoms.
Diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's dementia, and other forms of dementia can impair your memory. Short-term memory loss is often one of the first signs of these conditions.
Lack of mental stimulation
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities helps maintain your cognitive health. Lack of such stimulation over time can result in a decline in various cognitive functions, including short-term memory.