08 Feb 2023

What causes short-term memory loss?

AWritten by admin
From forgetting where you put your keys to failing to remember someone’s name, almost everyone experiences short-term memory loss from time to time. But what causes it? And more importantly, what can we do to prevent it? Here, we shed light on some reasons behind short-term memory loss – and offer plenty of top tips to help you overcome it.

A very brief overview of memory

Before discussing short-term memory loss, it might be useful to have an overview of the different types of memory. This is still a topic of debate. However, most experts believe that we have at least four kinds – or stages – of memory:

  • Sensory memory – an extremely brief recall of sensory information, for example a sound you hear but forget a second later
  • Short-term memory – a recall of a few pieces of information for approximately 30 seconds, for example a phone number someone tells you
  • Working memory – recalling a limited amount of information for a short time while you manipulate it. For example, you use this when solving a maths question in your head or having a conversation
  • Long-term memory – storage of a wide variety of information, experiences, etc. for longer than 30 seconds. We can further divide this into explicit or conscious memories, and implicit or unconscious memories. The vast majority of our memories fall into this category.

Let’s turn our focus to short-term memory. This is essentially how our brain temporarily stores information we’ve just acquired. Research indicates that we're able to hold approximately seven distinct pieces of data in our short-term memory at one time.(1)

Unless you make a conscious effort to keep it in your mind, you generally forget this information after about 30 seconds. Conversely, information can move from our short-term memory into our long-term memory, ready to be recalled at a later date. When you remember an incident from your childhood or a fact you learned last week, you’re pulling that knowledge from your long-term memory.


What is short-term memory loss?

Short-term memory loss is forgetting information you’ve just learned, or being unable to retain information in the short term. Here, ‘short term’ doesn’t only refer to a period of 30 seconds, but could be up to a few days. Some common examples of short-term memory loss include forgetting things like:

  • Where you put your keys or sunglasses
  • What the time is after looking at your phone or watch
  • Information someone just told you

If this feels familiar, don’t worry. Almost everyone in the world experiences some short-term memory loss now and then. It could be because something was distracting you, you weren’t paying attention, or you were under a lot of stress. Some forgetfulness is also just a normal part of getting older. However, sometimes short-term memory loss is so frequent or severe that it interferes with daily life. In these cases, it could be a sign of something more serious.

The good news is that there are several techniques you can use to help improve your short-term memory. From eating a healthier diet to harnessing natural remedies and making simple lifestyle changes, you have plenty of ways to give your brain a boost. The right approach will depend on numerous factors, including the cause of your short-term memory loss, which we’ll discuss shortly.

What is long-term memory loss?

Prior to covering potential causes of short-term memory loss, it’s worth clarifying the difference between that and long-term memory loss.

Long-term memory loss is where you have difficulty recalling significant information that you used to know. This could be common words, events that happened earlier in your life, or people and places from your past. It also includes forgetting how to do important activities and familiar tasks, such as using a computer or driving.

There are lots of potential causes of, and treatments for, long-term memory loss. However, as the title implies, in this article we’re going to focus on short-term memory loss.

What are the most common causes of short-term memory loss?

The question of what causes memory loss has many possible answers. A wide variety of factors, conditions, diseases, and circumstances can contribute to short-term memory loss. In some cases the reason may be obvious, whereas in other instances it might be less clear. To help you narrow it down, here are some of the more common causes of short-term memory loss:


It’s natural for people to experience mild short-term memory loss as they get older. However, this is not inevitable, and we're able to stave off cognitive decline through diet and lifestyle changes.

Sleep deprivation

Not getting enough sleep can impair our cognitive functions in several ways, including causing short-term memory loss. Sleep is crucial for both the consolidation of memories and our ability to focus and learn new things.

Head injuries

Certain types of head injury, such as concussions, can damage brain cells. This may result in temporary or even permanent short-term memory loss.

Neurodegenerative diseases

When it comes to memory loss diseases are perhaps what we worry about the most. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain tumours, and dementia can all damage the brain and cause short-term memory loss.

Mental health conditions

Stress and anxiety may both cause cognitive difficulties, including making it more difficult to focus and store information. Research has also linked PTSD and depression with short-term memory loss.(2)

Nutritional deficiencies

A lack of certain vitamins and minerals can have a detrimental impact on your cognitive functions. Studies link a deficiency in vitamin B12, folic acid and thiamine in particular with short-term memory loss.(3)

Substance misuse

Excessive consumption of alcohol and specific recreational drugs can cause short-term memory loss.(4) It may also be a side effect of some prescription medication.

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"We can help prevent short-term memory loss and improve cognition by eating a healthy diet, keeping our minds active, and harnessing the power of natural remedies."

spring rolls

Ways to prevent short-term memory loss

While short-term memory loss may be frustrating and even worrying, there are several steps you can take to prevent it. These will help to keep your brain healthy and your cognitive powers operating at their optimum.

Below, we’ve gathered together some of the most effective suggestions for improving your memory. Each tip has scientific evidence to back it up. They’re also simple enough that you can easily incorporate them into your life. For the best results, try to put as many of these ideas into practice as possible.

Improving your memory through your diet

Most of us are aware of how big an impact the food we eat has on our physical health. However, we don’t always think about the effect our diet can have on our brain power. The science shows that ensuring you get enough nutrients is crucial for staving off short-term memory loss.

This is most obvious if it’s a nutritional deficiency that’s behind your short-term memory loss. In particular, you want to make sure you're consuming sufficient vitamin B12 – especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian.

Speaking of vegans, research indicates that following a plant-based diet could be an effective way to prevent cognitive decline.(5) Making the switch is easier than you might think, and may benefit your health in a wealth of different ways.

There are several key ingredients you can include in your diet to prevent short-term memory loss. For instance, walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B6, and antioxidants – all of which are linked to better brain power. Studies suggest that walnut consumption can boost cognitive performance and improve memory.(6) Try harnessing this benefit by snacking on the nuts, or adding a drizzle of walnut oil to your favourite dishes.

Berries are another type of food that research proves is good for our brains. As an example, studies have linked consumption of blueberries with improved memory and cognitive function.(7) One reason for this is that, like walnuts, they’re high in antioxidants. These help to prevent free radical damage, which is a factor in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Finally, caffeine may have a positive impact on memory.(8) While coffee is one obvious way to reap this benefit, matcha tea is a fantastic alternative. It can boost concentration and memory without making you feel jittery or giving you a subsequent energy crash.

matcha green tea

Improving your memory through natural remedies

In addition to eating healthily, there are other ways to harness the power of plants to avoid short-term memory loss. Some of these come from the world of traditional medicine.

For instance, people have been using the lion’s mane mushroom for centuries as a way to boost cognitive health. Modern scientific studies have confirmed that it could indeed work to improve mild cognitive impairment and reduce memory loss.(9) The mushroom may also help to protect brain cells from damage caused by amyloid plaque, which is linked to Alzheimer’s.(10) Simply stir half a teaspoon of lion’s mane powder into a hot drink for a soothing and brain-boosting beverage!

Another traditional herbal remedy that might be useful in preventing short-term memory loss is turmeric. A key Ayurvedic spice, turmeric’s benefits are largely due to its active ingredient curcumin. Studies indicate that curcumin could help to improve our memory and attention abilities, plus protect the brain from neurodegeneration.(11)

As well as using turmeric powder in food, you can stir some into a glass of warm milk for a mind-enhancing golden latte. Consuming black pepper with turmeric helps to increase the bioavailability of curcumin. Therefore, we recommend adding a pinch to your drink to ensure you get the maximum benefits.

Lions mane

Improving your memory through lifestyle changes

Keeping short-term memory loss at bay is about more than diet and herbal remedies alone. There are also a number of important yet simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference to your cognition. Follow these top tips to keep your brain in great shape:

  • Ensure your mind stays active by learning new skills and doing challenging tasks. This could be anything from speaking a second language to playing a musical instrument. Puzzles, memory games and other types of brain training can also be very helpful.
  • Exercise regularly. This helps to protect the brain from the effects of ageing and enhances your cognitive functions, preventing short-term memory loss.
  • Try mindfulness activities, such as meditation, to ease feelings of stress and improve brain function.
  • Prioritise your sleep, especially if you think a lack of it is contributing to your short-term memory loss.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption, as this can damage both your short- and long-term memory.
  • Spend quality time socialising with friends and family. Studies show that strong social connections stimulate memory and boost neural networks.
  • Tackle issues caused by short-term memory loss by using to-do lists and reminder tools like phone alerts and organisation apps.
  • Employ proven psychological techniques to commit information to memory. For instance, repeating a person’s name when you meet them can help ensure you don’t forget it. Likewise, chunking information together allows you to hold more of it in your short-term memory. As an example, let’s consider how to memorise a phone number. It’s easier if you divide it into three groups of numbers, rather than try to remember it as one long string.
  • Keep your workspace and home free of clutter. Studies suggest that the sight of it can stress you out, make it harder to focus, and inhibit your memory.


playing chess memory improvement

When should you see a doctor about short-term memory loss?

For most of us, a little bit of short-term memory loss is nothing to worry about. However, if you find that it’s getting worse, having a harmful impact on your life, or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s wise to seek medical advice. The earlier an underlying condition is diagnosed, the better chance there is of successful treatment.

The final word on short-term memory loss

Short-term memory loss can be a normal consequence of factors such as ageing, a busy lifestyle, and stressful events. In most cases, it doesn't need to be a cause for concern. Moreover, there are plenty of actions we can take to prevent short-term memory loss and improve our cognitive functions. These include eating a healthy plant-based diet, keeping our minds active, and harnessing the power of scientifically backed natural remedies.

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