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Should I Be Worried About My Memory?

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Q

Sometimes during the day or before I fall asleep at night, I’ll be mulling over a problem and then completely forget my last thought. Does this mean that I’m suffering from short-term memory loss?

A

This could be a form of short-term memory loss. But don’t be too quick to assume the worst. Memory naturally declines as we get older. It becomes a real problem only when such instances become persistent and begin to interfere with your daily functioning—for example, you have difficulties performing at your job because of such memory lapses. In this case, you should definitely see your doctor for an evaluation.

However, there are other possible causes. Certain medications, such as sleeping pills and antidepressants, can lead to memory problems. Other causes could be smoking, alcohol and/or drug abuse, a head injury or a stroke.

Short-term memory loss can also be caused by a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which is most common in older people, who tend to have trouble absorbing this vitamin from their food. If you are concerned about your forgetfulness, it’s wise to talk to your doctor. He/she can order a blood test to check your vitamin B-12 levels (a vitamin B-12 supplement can be taken if needed)…perhaps prescribe a different medication if that may be the cause…or refer you to a specialist if you have one of the other conditions described above.

Other possible causes include lack of sleep and stress. Chronic lack of sleep impairs the brain’s ability to consolidate memories. If you’re not getting seven to eight hours of sleep most nights, try turning in earlier to see if your short-term memory improves.

With chronic stress, levels of the so-called “stress hormone” cortisol increase throughout our bodies. When cortisol enters the brain, it can damage the neurons that are needed for learning and memory. This explains why stressed-out people are so often forgetful.

So what’s the best solution? If it turns out that stress is to blame, try some laughter! A study conducted at Loma Linda University and published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine found that adults who watched a funny video for 20 minutes had significantly lower cortisol levels than those who did not watch it. Even better: Those in the study who watched the funny video scored 20% higher on memory tests, including short-term memory, than those in the control group. So get a regular dose of humor, and your memory may kick back into gear!

Source: Gurinder Singh Bains, PhD, associate professor, Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions, Loma Linda, California. He is coauthor of more than 25 publications in medical journals and has researched the effects of laughter on short-term memory. Date: July 12, 2018
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