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Short-term memory or primary memory holds information for around ten to twenty seconds and is very important for conscious thought. When we store words, numbers, or images in our primary memory, they are discarded quite rapidly. In this case, we are able to hold up to seven pieces of information at once until something else takes their place. Everybody, at some point or another, has had problems with short-term memory; this is no grave matter and is quite normal. Nowadays, everything is manically fast-paced and frenetic: juggling calls on the cell phone, work, emails, the television, and the Internet. All this bombarding of information results in our seeing, hearing, and reading a lot at once. The more things we see and do, the more likely we are to forget things.

Some things that can add to the causes of short term memory loss are:

  • Tiredness
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hangover
  • Poor diet
  • Too much stress and worry
  • Having a lot going on at once in your life
  • Grief

We tend to complain often about forgetting things in our pursuit of perfection, and we crave for a predictable memory. But this power of retention is not always predictable. If our brain did not forget things, we would be constantly recalling useless information, and that would certainly be mighty irksome. There would be a whole lot of clutter; we wouldn’t know what to do with it. A lot of autistic people have this condition wherein they cannot forget. There have been cases of some autistic people remembering an entire, thick Yellow Pages directory with all the people and their numbers listed.

Normal Short-term Memory Loss

This happens with everyone as the primary memory is easily distracted. Sometimes, information may be cast aside by your brain as trivial while it is trying to decide its importance, causing you to forget. These types of memory problems are common in children as well. Here are some of the normal problems that you may have faced at one point or another, and they aren’t necessarily symptoms of dementia:

  • Forgetting what you went upstairs for
  • Taking some time to recall where you car is parked
  • Forgetting to call a friend back
  • Putting something down and being unable to find it soon after
  • Forgetting the name of someone you’ve just met
  • Forgetting the word for something

Some Warning Signs

If you’re under stress, the signs listed below are probably only a temporary result of depression and anxiety, or they may even arise due to a lack of concentration. If you are aware of your memory problems, you are certainly not having dementia. Here are some signs:

  • Multitasking becomes difficult. A good cook suddenly finding preparation of a Sunday roast overwhelming
  • Problems locating familiar places
  • Forgetting names of relatives and friends
  • Problems with recognizing faces, colors, shapes, and words
  • Repeating the same question only after half an hour of asking it
  • Change of personality
  • Leaving objects in odd places and having no memory of doing so

Time to See A Doctor

People with Alzheimer’s disease are unable to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. Here are some signs that should be taken quite seriously:

  • Asking for a cup of tea without realizing that you have just had one
  • Forgetting your grandchild’s name without forgetting your own childhood memories
  • Forgetting most entirely how to perform simple, daily tasks
  • Finding your family relationship structure quite confusing
  • Impaired judgment like wearing gumboots when it is not raining
  • Inability to explain the purpose of a daily object
  • Inability to recognize friends and family
  • Leaving your things in strange places, for instance, a book in the fridge
  • Feeling disoriented with time and place, especially places you have always frequented

People all across the world are terrified that something so meager can turn into a ghastly degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia. But forgetfulness is quite normal. A lot of academic students and other reasonably healthy people take pills that claim to treat forgetfulness and pose as memory-boosters or mind-boosters. A lot of students take drugs like Adderall XR and Ritalin, which are intended for Attention Deficit Disorders. But these can have serious side effects, as they can cause dizziness, insomnia, and lead to further confusion and short-term memory problems in young adults.

Staying awake for long periods affects our brain’s ability to focus and pay attention to details. We remember less, because we notice less. Adequate amount of sleep is essential for the brain to restore order on an otherwise chaotic day, as it files and places things in different required compartments, keeping what it needs and discarding the unessential excess. In the time of deep sleep, the brain transforms all the impressions we have had during the course of the day into memories and memory associations. In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when we dream, the cortex area of the brain, which is responsible for consciousness, sends impulses to the hippocampus, which is one of the main parts for storing memory. This is a very important process for forming memory, as insufficient sleep or broken rest can lead to its disruption.

If you keep telling yourself that your memory is bad, it can further worsen your short-term memory problems. The best is to watch what you’re telling your brain. It is like self-hypnosis. You tell your brain something, and it starts functioning in that exact manner. Simply believing that you have a good memory will help you keep it that way. It is a popular belief that it is normal to have memory problems as you get older. However, that is not quite true. Older people’s way of storing memory may change, but not necessarily deteriorate. They are fantastic at retaining their long term memory and may even get better at it. Just like the body needs exercise, so does the mind. An active and healthy mind cannot possibly have much of memory problems even if it gets older. If you’re living a healthy lifestyle, eating well, getting enough sleep, laughing a lot, and reading and seeing newer things to keep your mind alive, you can’t go too wrong.