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Short-Term Memory Loss: Common Causes and Prevention

Relax, short-term memory loss is extremely common and it happens to all of us from time to time.

Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain can fall out of shape. When this happens, you find yourself wondering where you set your car keys or forgetting why you just went in the living room.

Short-term memory loss isn’t something to freak out about. Yes, it’s annoying, but you can fight it.

It’s true that memory loss is the first sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but that diagnosis only shows up a very small fraction of the time. In most cases, it’s just standard forgetfulness.

The Difference Between Long-Term and Short-Term Memory Loss

Your short-term and long-term memory have two very different functions for organizing information inside your brain. If you want to improve your memory, it’s important to understand how they both work.

Short-term memory

Your short-term memory is where your brain stores information for short periods of time: usually about 1 minute.

That’s why if you only think about something for a fleeting moment, you probably won’t remember it five minutes later.

Your short-term memory helps your brain decide what’s important so it knows what to keep for long periods of time. (Hey, there’s only so much space in there.)

Your brain can only store about 4 or 5 pieces of information in your short-term memory at any given time. Most of us spend a lot of time multitasking, so it makes sense that we frequently forget things stored in our short-term memory.

Long-term memory

Information has to pass through short-term memory before you can remember it indefinitely. That’s why only certain pieces of info make it through this process into our distant memories.

In general, it usually takes about a minute and a half to force information to move from your short-term memory into your long-term memory. This process is called “rehearsal” and it’s very beneficial for remembering names, dates, and other crucial information.

Possible Causes of Memory Loss


You experience short-term memory loss when finding yourself frequently forgetting things you’ve recently learned.

That’s a pretty broad description. So, is there a memory loss cause or does it just happen?

Could be a bit of both. Your brain can only store so much info at any given time, so it’s inevitable that some pieces will slip through the cracks.

A wide variety of factors can contribute to memory loss including medications, stress or cortisol, age, information overload, insomnia, and a generally unhealthy lifestyle.

If your memory loss sounds like the symptoms below, you shouldn’t need to worry too much.

  • Misplacing items like keys
  • Forgetting your response while you’re waiting for your turn in a conversation
  • Calling people the wrong name
  • Forgetting what you’ve just read
  • Walking into a room and forgetting why


If you fit the symptoms below, you should check with a doctor to make sure your memory loss isn’t caused by something more serious.

  • Getting lost near your home
  • Losing track of movie plots
  • Forgetting if you’ve eaten
  • Struggling to keep up with routine daily activities
  • Asking the same questions over and over

Ways to Prevent Memory Loss

Now that you know what causes memory loss, you need to figure out what’s good for memory loss and how you can make changes in your life.

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Are you taking medications that can cause memory loss?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions that could trigger memory loss?
  • Are you physically active on a regular basis?
  • Are you consuming lots of healthy proteins, amino acids, fruits, and vegetables?

Give yourself a brain boost

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Exercise your brain by learning a new hobby or language. Play board games to boost cognitive skills.

Try practicing regular deep breathing exercises to reduce cortisol levels and help your brain “reset” after information overload.

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