While absentmindedness and a forgetful nature can be amusing in an individual, when the impact is chronic or serious, a loss in memory is frankly quite terrifying. The loss can be a loss of short-term information, where you can't remember phone numbers or people you have just met. It can be a loss of long-term information, where you have forgotten where you live or who are your parents or childhood memories. While there are many causes for a loss in memory, certain diseases feature a memory loss as a symptom or consequence.
Diseases Associated with Memory Loss
Memory loss diseases can be classified into different types, based on body area affected.
Infections and Diseases of the Brain
Different parts of the brain are associated with the retention of information, so certain illnesses which affect the brain can affect the memory. The cortex is the predominant area of the brain involved in memory storage. Other parts include the hippocampus and the amygdala. Brain disorders which cause memory loss are:
Wernicke-Korsakoff's Syndrome - A deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) can cause this brain disorder, which specifically affects the brain areas dealing with memory retention. It has a high rate of occurrence with chronic alcoholics. The main symptom of this disorder is memory loss in all manners : cannot form new memories, cannot remember things, hallucinating and confusion.
Epilepsy or Seizures - This brain disorder is characterized by seizures, fits or convulsions due to excessive electrical signals being produced in the brain. The patient will undergo "episodes" or "occurrences" of erratic brain activity, where his/hers behavior and functioning are disturbingly abnormal. Seizures can be temporarily caused by events such as drug abuse. They can also be a permanent condition and can occur regularly in the patient's life.
Short-term memory loss is commonly noted among sufferers of epilepsy. After an attack, they can be disoriented and will not remember where they are and what they were doing. Sometimes the loss can be long-term. As there are over 40 classifications of epilepsy, each with its own symptoms and causes, it is difficult to pinpoint the impact on memory.
Other diseases of the brain or which affect the brain and cause memory loss are:
- Lyme Disease
- Brain Tumors
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
Such diseases are caused due to malfunctioning or damaged neurons, which are essential carriers of information and data within the body. Neurons connect with electrical and chemical signals to transmit information and are responsible for the connection between the brain and the body. Neurodegenerative disorders are mainly genetic in nature but can also be due to toxic or chemical content in the body. Below are two memory loss diseases, which are neurodegenerative in nature.
Alzheimer's Disease - An age-related, progressive disorder which is a form of dementia. The exact cause and reason for such a disease are vague. Disruption in cells and nerves in the brain is a key indicator. Age is another factor, as it is mostly observed in individuals above 65. The quality of life and normal behavior of the patient deteriorates slowly. A patient can exhibit aggressive and violent tendencies with mood swings.
The most common and obvious symptom of Alzheimer's is a dysfunction of memory. This memory loss disease symptoms include short-term and long-term memory loss. Patients can fail to recognize their own children and family or remember who they are. They also have difficulties with change or new information. Certain essential functions and regular tasks like counting numbers, choosing or differentiating between colors, reading etc. cannot be performed. Language skills also suffer. An estimated 1-5% of the world's population suffers from Alzheimer's and approximately 5.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Huntington's Disease - This is a genetic disorder, where a particular gene (Huntingtin) is damaged or destroyed. The disease is characterized by a decline in muscle functioning and behavior, followed by severe debilitation of cognitive functioning. Its signs can appear in young adulthood or in middle age. While a jerky gait, clumsiness and abnormal posture are some physical signs, loss of memory is a severe mental symptom. Short-term and long-term memory is affected. There is episodic memory loss and difficulty in performing certain tasks.
Other neurodegenerative memory loss diseases:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Parkinson's Disease
- Pick's Disease
Fibromyalgia - This is a muscular disorder, where painful pressure or impulses are felt at certain locations on the body. The muscles or joints at these areas will hurt when touched. Among other symptoms such as tiredness, stiffness in joints and headaches, the cognitive functioning of a patient can be compromised. An individual suffering from fibromyalgia can have short-term and long-term memory problems, difficulty concentrating or multi-tasking and slow in performing tasks. This symptom is named a "brain fog" or "fibrofog".
Wilson's Disease - This is a rare, genetic illness, caused by the body's tendency to accumulate copper. This is mainly due to faulty liver functioning, so instead of copper turning into bile, it gets released into the bloodstream. Along with physical effects (liver disease), certain symptoms are cognitive in nature. Amongst these is a loss in memory and poor judgment and decision-making ability.
Memory loss can be a frightening and severe consequence of an already damaging disease. Coping or dealing with the loss in memory, through simple steps is an effective treatment. Get a good night's sleep, socialize more and exercise to keep healthy. These can help avoid depression and feelings of uselessness. When leaving the house, write things or directions down or on your hand and avoid driving to your destination. Try yoga or deep breathing, to calm down from stressful situations. Talk to family members and friends more about events and things, to keep jogging your memory. Memory loss need not be permanent, with the right attitude, it can be beaten.