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The #1 Reason of Memory Loss Says Science

Five things that cause memory loss, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Memory loss is no longer considered an inevitable part of aging, doctors say. "The very early mild cognitive changes once thought to be normal aging are really the first signs of progressive dementia, in particular Alzheimer's disease," says Robert S.Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center. "The pathology in the brain related to Alzheimer's and other dementias has a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously recognized." Here are five common reasons for memory loss, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Head Injury

man hold his had and suffering from headache, pain, migraine

Head injuries can cause amnesia—sometimes permanent, depending on the severity of the injury. Research shows head injuries can also increase the risk of dementia later in life. "Head injury is a significant risk factor for dementia, but it's one that can be prevented. Our findings show that the number of head injuries matter – more head injuries are associated with greater risk for dementia," says Andrea L.C. Schneider, MD, PhD.


Traumatic Event


Trauma can cause memory loss, both long and short-term. "People who experience a devastating event such as a car accident, natural disaster, or terror attack often cannot remember the incident," says Fabiana Franco, PhD. "It's also common not to remember what took place right before or right after the incident. In a similar way, many adults who suffered child abuse have difficulty recalling large chunks of time from childhood. In these cases, problems with memory can continue into adulthood as well, particularly when faced with emotional distress."


Brain Tumor

Female middle aged doctor discussing with her senior stroke patient ct-scan images of her brain

Brain tumors—and subsequent treatment—can cause memory loss. "Cognitive dysfunction is a frequent complication in long-term survivors of brain tumors and can be related to both the brain tumor and its treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy," says Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center. "Brain tumors and resection surgery cause physical changes to brain tissue and can lead to diffuse cognitive deficits, including problems with attention, memory, executive functioning, and information processing."  


Alcohol Abuse

refuse alcohol

A recent study shows there is no "safe" level of drinking, especially in regard to brain health. "Previous research has found that subtle changes which demonstrate damage to the brain can present in ways that are not immediately detectable on routine testing of intellectual function and can progress unchecked until they present with more noticeable changes in memory," says Tony Rao, a visiting clinical fellow in Old Age Psychiatry at King's College London. "Even at levels of low-risk drinking there is evidence that alcohol consumption plays a larger role in damage to the brain than previously thought."


Alzheimer's Disease

Portrait of worried senior man sitting on sofa in living room

Memory loss is a key symptom of Alzheimer's disease. "Stress, an extra-busy day, poor sleep and even some medications can interfere with making and recalling memories," says geriatrician Sevil Yasar, MD, PhD. "And we all have moments when a name or the title of a movie is right on the tip of the tongue, but those events are different from the kinds of lapses that may be warning signs for dementia… any time you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, it's worth talking with your doctor."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan