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What is long-term memory loss?

Christine Kelly | Jun 18, 2021

A mother and daughter hugging and smiling

Though some medical diagnoses may appear to be in plain English, it can still be a frustrating puzzle to figure out exactly what they mean. Such is the case with a doctor or nurse telling you that what seems like a small memory lapse in a loved one may, in fact, be indicative of long-term memory loss.

You know what all four of those words mean separately. But together they’re a confusing tangle. What’s the difference between short- and long-term memory loss? What are the causes? Is there any hope for improvement?

In this blog, we’ll answer all of your pressing questions about long-term memory loss, and what it might mean for you and your loved one.


What are different types of memory loss?

Memory loss is generally grouped into short- and long-term.

Short-term memory is the capacity to remember recent events and facts. Therefore, short-term memory loss means someone is having trouble recalling things they heard, saw, or learned recently. This can be as innocuous as forgetting where you put your keys last night, or spacing out on someone’s name after you’ve met. 

In fact, short-term memory loss is simply a universal truth of aging, and our brains slowing down a bit. It can also be a signal that we’ve gotten too little sleep, are stressed out, may be lacking certain vitamins and minerals, or perhaps are on a medication with side-effects.

Long-term memory refers to the part of our memory that stores names and anecdotes over a long period of time. It’s also related to knowing how to complete everyday, functional tasks. When long-term memory capacity declines, it often has a much more severe impact on someone’s quality of life.


What are symptoms of long-term memory loss?

WALKER_MemoryCare_Aug2016If you notice that a loved one is forgetting memories from childhood, such as the name of siblings or the high school they attended, this is a sign of long-term memory loss. They may also mix up or completely forget common words, get confused doing basic tasks, get lost in familiar places, and/or exhibit increased irritability and mood swings.

Often, symptoms of short-term memory loss predate the more severe symptoms of long-term memory loss. Keep a close eye on whether or not memory loss is interfering with your loved one's ability to live independently and safely. At this point, it is likely time to consult with a medical expert.


What are the common causes of long-term memory loss?

Long-term memory loss can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are reversible.

Causes of long-term memory loss that can be treated include:

Longer-term damage to the brain through drug and alcohol abuse, brain injuries or infections, brain tumors, strokes, and epilepsy, may be partially reversible, but are generally more serious.

Lastly, there are progressive degenerative disorders such as dementias and Parkinson’s Disease, which are not reversible.

Is long-term memory loss permanent?

If your loved one’s long-term memory loss is a symptom of an underlying disorder that causes progressive cognitive decline, then yes, it will be permanent. However, if caught in its early stages and treated with medication and cognitive stimulation, you can slow the progress of such diseases.

The most common neurodegenerative diseases that impact memory include: 

  • Lewy body dementia: This dementia typically first manifests through movement problems caused by abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein proteins on the brain, but in later stages can impact memory and reasoning.
  • Frontotemporal lobe dementia (FTD): Also called Pick’s disease, FTD exhibits first through personality and mood changes, which can worsen into language difficulties and memory loss.
  • Vascular dementia: Usually caused by an initial catastrophic event such as stroke or brain injury, vascular dementia symptoms are very similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Huntington’s disease: An inherited disorder affecting younger individuals, Huntington’s manifests both physical and cognitive symptoms.

How can I help someone with long-term memory loss?

walker-blog-memory-careIf you notice your loved one displaying symptoms of long-term memory loss, get them to a doctor who can administer specific memory loss tests to confirm a diagnosis and treatment regimen as soon as possible.

Many disorders are sadly progressive, and cannot be cured. However, there are medications that can treat symptoms and keep quality of life as high as possible for as long as possible. Keeping your loved one mentally stimulated can also have positive effects on their memory capacity and quality of life.


Take care of yourself as well

Memory loss can strain relationships and mental health for both the patient and their caregivers, so don’t be afraid to seek outside help. You aren’t a superhero, and you don’t have to do everything alone

Experts in medicine, therapy, and caregiving can ensure that both you and your loved one are making the most of the time you have left together. And providing memory-loss patients with the highest quality of life is the best gift you can give them.


Memory care at Walker Methodist

We’ve re-named our memory care communities Kaleidoscope, a fitting name suggesting metamorphosis, vibrancy, and life.

At Walker Methodist, we don’t just take care of people with memory loss or dementia. We see their value and recognize their worth in this stage of their lives. We not only meet their physical needs, but we care for the needs of the person as a whole being.

If you have a loved one who is experiencing this transformation, reach out to our team today and learn how we can help enhance their lives, even during this time of change.


Download the 10 Questions to Consider  in the Memory Care Process ebook


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