man wearing white shirt holding his head with both hands while feeling confused

Memory loss is one of the lingering problems in the United States, especially among those who are 65 years old and above. About 40 percent of their population will have to deal with it. In some cases, the condition is severe enough to require home care.

But what exactly causes memory loss?

1. Aging

How does aging contribute to memory loss? Reason: brain size.

Evolution points out that humans have become the most superior species partly because of the volume of the brain. The bigger it is, the more effective it gets in processing vision. Vision correlates to a person’s capacity to store working memory, which is the temporary memory that a person uses to operate every single day.

When a person reaches 40 years old, the volume of the brain gradually shrinks. Neurons or nerve cells, which allow complex brain processing, atrophy or die. In turn, an older individual is likely to suffer from memory loss over time.

2. Dementia

Dementia is a neurological disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is caused by injury or disease of the brain.

It is different from normal memory loss due to aging since dementia interferes with daily life. People with this disease are likely to lose both their working and long-term memory.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 60 million people globally will develop dementia. Despite being common, it doesn’t have any cure. Health experts also don’t know the exact cause.

One of the most popular theories is the buildup of amyloid deposits in the brain. Amyloids are an abnormal type of protein that forms plaques and tangles in the brain, causing the neurons to die.

Dementia has many types:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease – most with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Vascular Dementia – Around 15 to 20 percent of people with dementia have vascular dementia, caused by problems like a series of mini-strokes that reduce blood supply and oxygen to the brain.
  • Lewy Body Dementia – 10 percent of people with dementia have Lewy body dementia characterized by abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia – FTD affects the frontal lobe or temporal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for personality, behavior, and language.
  • Mixed Dementia – Most people with mixed dementia have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

3. Head Injury

asian woman in black tank tops holding her head injury with bandage

A blow to the head can lead to bruising or bleeding in the brain, resulting in permanent memory loss. However, a person doesn’t need to be hit with a hard object for him/her to sustain head trauma.

The impact of rapid acceleration or deceleration, such as in a car accident where the head suddenly jerks forward and backward, can injure the brain. When there’s bleeding or bruising in the brain, it will press on other parts of the organ and cause irreversible damage to its neurons.

Other types of head injuries that can cause memory loss include:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – any injury that interrupts the normal function of the brain. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.
  • Concussion – a minor form of TBI where symptoms usually disappear within minutes.
  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) –  a brain disease found in people who experience repeated blows to the head.
  • Stroke – brain cells can die because of a stroke or lack of blood flow to the brain. This problem occurs when one or more arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain are blocked due to a clot, fatty deposit, abnormal artery narrowing because of plaque buildup, or ruptured vessel.
  • Aneurysm – a bulge in an artery wall that can burst, causing bleeding in the brain.

4. Stress

Stress is a mental and physical response to an external stimulus. It’s when the heart rate rises, blood pressure increases, and muscles contract in preparation for “fight or flight.”

When stress becomes chronic (meaning it lasts too long), it begins to affect the brain. The hippocampus, which regulates emotion and memory storage, can shrink or malfunction due to chronic stress.

Stress can also lead to other risk factors of memory loss. One of these is substance abuse, such as alcohol or drug addiction. These chemicals can alter the way the brain behaves, including its ability to remember things. Alcohol, in particular, can block the communication of neurons.

Stress can also be a factor for mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression. People with these problems could take medications that result in a higher risk of forgetfulness or dementia-like symptoms. These conditions can also impact working memory.

At some point, people will lose some of their memory. Fortunately, they can do many things to delay the process. These include maintaining social connections and performing cognitive exercises.

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