Short-Term Memory Loss: Definition, Signs, Treatment

Short-term memory loss is a condition that affects many people, often causing difficulty in retaining and recalling recent information. 

It can significantly impact daily activities and lead to frustration and anxiety for those affected and their loved ones. 

Short-term memory loss, also known as fixation amnesia, can be caused by various factors, including head injuries, aging, stress, sleep deprivation, medication side effects, and certain medical conditions.

In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for short-term memory loss, as well as strategies that can be implemented to improve memory function. 

Understanding this condition and how to manage it can help individuals regain confidence and improve their quality of life. 

Short-term memory loss vs normal forgetfulness

The difference between short-term memory loss and normal forgetfulness lies in the severity, frequency, and impact on daily functioning. 

Short-term memory loss, also known as working memory impairment, is the inability to retain or recall information for a short period, typically ranging from a few seconds to a minute. 

It can significantly impact daily activities, making remembering important information, conversations, or tasks difficult.

On the other hand, normal forgetfulness refers to occasional lapses in memory that are common in daily life. 

These memory lapses might include forgetting where you placed an item, forgetting someone’s name, or missing an appointment. 

Regular forgetfulness is typically the result of distraction or lack of attention and does not significantly interfere with daily functioning.

It is considered a normal part of aging and does not necessarily indicate an underlying medical condition. 

While normal forgetfulness is considered a normal part of aging, short-term memory loss can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires medical attention. 

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10 signs of short-term memory loss

Signs of short-term memory loss can vary depending on the underlying cause but generally include the following:

1) Difficulty remembering recent events or conversations

Individuals with short-term memory loss may struggle to recall details of events or discussions that happened just a few minutes or hours ago.

2) Repeatedly asking the same questions

Due to the inability to retain recent information, individuals may repeatedly ask the same questions or seek the same information quickly.

3) Forgetting tasks or appointments

Short-term memory loss can cause individuals to forget about scheduled meetings, errands, or tasks they had planned to complete.

4) Misplacing items frequently

People with short-term memory loss may often lose personal belongings, such as keys, glasses, or wallets, as they need help remembering where they placed them.

5) Difficulty learning new information

Short-term memory is essential for learning further information. Individuals with short-term memory loss may struggle to grasp and retain new concepts or skills.

6) The trouble with directions or navigation

Short-term memory loss can make it challenging for individuals to remember tips to familiar places or navigate new environments.

7) Difficulty following instructions or multi-step processes

People with short-term memory loss may have trouble retaining and executing instructions that involve multiple steps.

8) Confusion or disorientation

Short-term memory loss can lead to confusion or disorientation, especially in new or unfamiliar situations.

9) Difficulty making decisions

The inability to remember recent information can make it challenging for individuals to make informed decisions.

10) Changes in mood or behavior

Short-term memory loss can be frustrating and may lead to increased irritability, anxiety, or depression.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause and explore appropriate treatment options.

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Causes and risk factors of short-term memory loss

There are several causes and risk factors associated with short-term memory loss. Some of the most common include:

1) Aging

As people age, their cognitive abilities, including short-term memory, may decline naturally. This decline can vary from person to person and influenced by lifestyle factors and overall brain health.

2) Head injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions or severe head trauma, can damage brain cells and result in short-term memory loss.

3) Stress and anxiety

High pressure and anxiety levels can negatively affect cognitive function, including short-term memory. 

Chronic stress can lead to the release of stress hormones that may damage brain cells responsible for memory.

4) Sleep deprivation

Lack of proper sleep can significantly impact cognitive functions, including short-term memory. Sleep is essential for consolidating memories and maintaining overall brain health.

5) Medication side effects

Certain medications, such as benzodiazepines, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and some antidepressants, can cause short-term memory loss as a side effect.

6) Substance abuse

Excessive use of alcohol or drugs can damage brain cells and impair cognitive functions, including short-term memory.

7) Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and brain tumors, can cause short-term memory loss due to their impact on brain function.

8) Nutritional deficiencies

A deficiency in essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12, can affect cognitive function and cause short-term memory loss.

9) Infections

Infections that affect the central nervous system, such as meningitis or encephalitis, can cause short-term memory loss due to inflammation or damage to brain cells.

10) Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid can lead to cognitive impairments, including short-term memory loss.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional if you are experiencing short-term memory loss to determine the underlying cause and explore appropriate treatment options. 

Some reasons may be reversible with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, while others may require ongoing management and support.

When to see a doctor 

If you or someone you know are experiencing the following, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional:

  1. Interferes with daily activities: If memory loss significantly affects your ability to function in everyday life, including work, social interactions, or self-care, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.
  2. Persists or worsens over time: If memory issues are continuous or progressively deteriorating, it may indicate an underlying medical condition requiring attention.
  3. Occurs suddenly or after a head injury: If short-term memory loss develops suddenly or after a head injury, it’s crucial to see a doctor immediately, as this could indicate a concussion or more severe brain injury.
  4. Is accompanied by other symptoms: If memory loss is accompanied by other symptoms, such as confusion, difficulty communicating, changes in mood or behavior, or problems with coordination and balance, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional.
  5. Does not improve with lifestyle changes: If you’ve tried to improve your sleep, manage stress, and maintain a healthy diet, but your memory issues persist, it’s essential to seek medical advice.
  6. Affects your ability to make decisions or problem-solve: If short-term memory loss impacts your ability to make informed decisions or problems, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional.
  7. Causes significant distress or concern: If you are concerned or distressed about your short-term memory loss or its impact on your life, seek medical advice.

Seeing a doctor for short-term memory loss can help identify the underlying cause, determine whether it’s a reversible or progressive condition, and develop an appropriate treatment plan to manage and improve memory function.

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Healthcare professionals diagnose short-term memory loss through medical history, physical examination, cognitive tests, and potentially additional diagnostic tests. 

The process typically involves the following steps:

Medical history

The healthcare professional will ask about your medical history, including any previous medical conditions, medications, family history of memory disorders, and the onset, duration, and severity of your memory issues.

Physical examination

The doctor will perform a physical exam to check for any signs of underlying medical conditions causing memory loss, such as a neurological disorder, vitamin deficiencies, or thyroid issues.

Cognitive tests

The healthcare professional may administer cognitive tests to assess your short-term memory and other cognitive functions. 

These tests include the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), or other neuropsychological tests to evaluate attention, memory, language, and problem-solving skills.

Additional diagnostic tests

Depending on the initial findings, the doctor may order further tests to identify the underlying cause of short-term memory loss. These tests can include:

  • Blood tests: To check for vitamin deficiencies, thyroid function, or other potential causes of memory loss.
  • Imaging studies: Brain imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, can help identify structural abnormalities, tumors, or signs of stroke that could be causing memory loss.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test measures electrical activity in the brain and can help diagnose conditions such as epilepsy, which can cause memory problems.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): This test involves collecting cerebrospinal fluid to evaluate for infections or other conditions affecting the brain.

Referral to a specialist

Depending on the results of the initial evaluation, your healthcare professional may refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist, geriatrician, or psychiatrist, for further assessment and treatment.

Short-term memory loss can be a frustrating and confusing experience for many people. It can affect remembering essential details such as appointments, names, and events. 

Fortunately, there are ways to manage and cope with this condition. Some strategies include setting reminders, repeating information to oneself, and staying organized. 


The first step in treating short-term memory loss is to identify the underlying cause.

Suppose your short-term memory loss is due to stress or lack of sleep. In that case, simple lifestyle changes like getting enough rest, practicing relaxation techniques, or engaging in regular exercise will help improve your memory

In some cases, changing conditions may also help. Tips like repeating information aloud using mnemonic devices to help remember information, and breaking information down into, more manageable pieces. 

Common treatments for short-term memory loss based on the underlying condition or cause include:

  • surgery
  • medication
  • therapy
  • good sleep hygiene
  • lifestyle changes

Home remedies

There are a few home remedies that may help improve short-term memory:

  • Improving sleep: Getting enough sleep can affect memory, so aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep per night is essential.
  • Exercising regularly: Exercise has improved memory and cognitive function.
  • Eating a healthy diet: A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help improve memory.
  • Practicing meditation or relaxation techniques: These techniques have been shown to improve short-term memory in people of all ages.
  • Managing stress: Chronic stress can affect memory, so finding ways to manage stress may be helpful.

It’s important to note that while these remedies may help improve short-term memory, they should not replace medical treatment if an underlying medical condition causes memory loss. 

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How to prevent memory loss in old age

As we age, it is natural to experience some memory decline. However, memory loss can be a frustrating and concerning issue that affects our daily lives. 

The good news is that there are several ways to prevent memory loss and keep our minds sharp as we age. 

Several effective strategies exist for maintaining cognitive function and preventing memory loss in old age. 

Here are some strategies:

  • Stay mentally active: Engage in activities that challenge your brain, such as reading, puzzles, learning new things, and socializing.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help improve blood flow to the brain, which can help improve memory.
  • Eat a healthy diet: A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help support brain health.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for memory consolidation and helps the brain function properly.
  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can affect memory, so finding ways to manage stress, such as mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation techniques, can be helpful.
  • Stay socially engaged: Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, so maintaining social connections can benefit brain health.
  • Limit alcohol and drug use: Alcohol and drugs can negatively affect the brain and memory, so using them in moderation or avoiding them altogether is essential.
  • Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression can affect memory, so managing these conditions can be helpful for brain health.


Short-term memory is a person’s ability to remember small amounts of information for a short period. 

Short-term memory loss is sometimes a part of typical aging but could be a symptom of several health conditions, both psychological and physical. 

People should contact a doctor when short-term memory loss interferes with daily functioning or quality of life, especially if memory loss becomes frequent or severe.

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  1. Cascella M, Al Khalili Y. Short-Term Memory Impairment. [Updated 2022 Jul 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan.
  2. Memory, forgetfulness, and aging: What’s normal and what’s not? (2020).
  3. Borelli, C. M., et al. (2020). Causes of memory loss in elderly persons.
  4. Cascella, M., et al. (2021). Short-term memory impairment.

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