8 Other Reasons You May Be Forgetful…
So, you know you were supposed to be doing something – but you just can’t remember what it was. Or, in the middle of a conversation, you can’t remember the words you need. Don’t necessarily put it down to age, working too hard, having an overloaded mind or Fibro Fog. There are other common health problems that can cause forgetfulness.
High Blood Pressure
The REGARDS study in the US found people with high blood pressure perform worse in memory tests and their memory shows greater deterioration over time. The study involved more than 30,000 people over four years. “The increase in blood pressure can mean structural changes in the blood vessels, making them thicker and making it harder to get blood around your body,” says Dr Gavin Lambert, from the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute. “As a result, you can get organ damage. That can be in the brain as well and affect your recall and cognition.” So eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and if you are on blood pressure medication, take it as prescribed.
A study at Stanford University in the US found breast cancer patients who had chemotherapy suffered some impact to the parts of the brain responsible for memory and planning.
“One of the potential undesirable side effects of chemotherapy is what we loosely call ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog’,” says Dr Helen Zorbas, CEO of Cancer Australia.
“It can be mild or more significant in effect. While there’s nothing that can be done to help it, I think just knowing it’s a common side effect is important for women and they should be reassured that in most cases it’s mild and self-limiting.”
A 2008 study at the University of Illinois found a link between hot flushes and poor verbal memory. The study followed other research that found about 40 per cent of women report becoming more forgetful around menopause.
“The more hot flushes a woman had, the worse her memory performance,” says researcher Professor Pauline Maki. Maki found women whose hot flushes disturbed their sleep suffered even worse memory problems.
Dr Elizabeth Farrell, consultant gynaecologist with Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, says while there is no conclusive evidence that menopause triggers memory loss, women do report feeling more muddled sometimes.
If you have hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid – your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This leads to a slower metabolism and tiredness, and can lead to some forgetfulness.
Hypothyroidism is more common after the age of 40 and affects about six to 10 per cent of women and a smaller number of men.
“When you have a medical condition that causes fatigue, it’s easy to become forgetful. But when hypothyroidism is treated, people recover well and memory recovers, too,” says Dr Ronald McCoy, a spokesman for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Hypothyroidism can be treated with medication.
Memory can start to be affected after a flight lasting more than four hours – such as a Melbourne to Perth trip, McCoy says. “It’s similar to people having a knock on the head and suffering short-term memory loss. They recover but may not remember what happened at the time,” he says. “People function well at the time but the day later they have problems recalling what happened at certain times.”
It’s true – pregnancy can affect memory. “Well practised memory tasks, such as remembering phone numbers of friends and family members, are unlikely to be affected,” says researcher Dr Julie Henry, who was involved in a University of New South Wales study that found pregnant women do suffer some temporary forgetfulness.
“It’s a different story, though, when you have to remember new phone numbers or hold in mind several different pieces of information.” She says the upheaval that comes with pregnancy may be the reason.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
“Vitamin B12 is essential for normal neurological function,” says Denise Griffiths, a spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “Deficiency of vitamin B12 can result in cognitive changes, from memory loss to dementia.” Scientists believe vitamin B12 may safeguard the myelin sheath – a layer that insulates our nerves. If the sheath is damaged it can affect the transmission of messages to and from the brain.
“Alcohol prevents the storage of the short-term memory into the long-term memory,” McCoy says. “So people drink and function but can lose memory of what happened during the time they were drinking. ”Too much alcohol has a negative impact on the hippocampus – a part of the brain involved with recording and storing memories.
Reprinted from Volume 2: Issue 1 of LIVING WELL with FIBROMYALGIA