Causes of Short-Term Memory Problems

Notes and reminders can help people with memory problems on some occasions.
Notes and reminders can help people with memory problems on some occasions. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Short-term memory refers to recently encountered information as opposed to long ago memories. Short-term memory problems are commonly associated with aging, but actually there are many possible causes. Short-term memory problems are to be taken seriously when they impact your daily life, or involve things you have known how to do for a long time, like how to get to your daughter's home or how to make your favorite chili.

Medications or Drugs

Short-term memory loss can occur due to alcohol or illicit drug use or as a side effect of prescription drugs. Drugs like barbituates and benzodiazepines have memory effects. Even a number of over-the-counter medications are associated with memory loss. Drugs that can be linked to memory problems include anti-spasmodics, antacids, antihistamines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and antipsychotics. Drug or alcohol intoxication are much more likely to cause memory issues than moderate or limited use.

Trauma or Infection

Brain injury can cause short-term memory problems, whether the injury causes temporary or permanent damage. So can brain infections due to things such as Lyme's disease, HIV/AIDS or syphillis, or growths such as tumors, or encephalitis. Even a mild concussion can cause some short-term memory issues. Migraines can also be a cause.


Short-term memory problems are linked to diseases such as epilepsy, particularly when it is not well controlled. Other diseases that may create memory issues include Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease or multiple sclerosis. Mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can contribute to memory problems as can dissociative disorder. Alzheimer's disease and dementia are of course strongly linked to memory problems.

Other Causes

Any event that causes the brain to be deprived of oxygen, such as anesthesia complications, breathing or heart stopped, can cause memory loss. Brain surgery can also create memory difficulties. Certain types of cancer treatments, such as brain radiation, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, are implicated in memory problems. ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, particularly if used long-term, can also create short-term memory problems. Transient ischemic attacks and cardiac bypass surgery are also culprits. Even vitamin deficiencies can cause memory issues, especially low B-12.

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