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Dr. Gott: Memory loss has variety of causes

Peter H. Gott, M.D.

DEAR DR. GOTT: Is there anything I can do about my memory? I am 25 and seem to have a real problem remembering things, whether it’s studying for a test or something my wife has told me to remember. It’s frustrating for both of us.

DEAR READER: Memory loss, whether short- or long-term, in young adults can be the result of a variety of causes. It occurs when the portion of the brain that stores memory becomes compromised. Short-term loss issues include brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis, traumatic brain injuries, vitamin B1 deficiency and specific drugs.

Meningitis is inflammation or infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. There are a number of types of meningitis, including bacterial, aseptic, Cryptococcus, tuberculous and those caused by the coxsackievirus or echovirus.

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. It can be caused by a viral infection transmitted by an infected mosquito, the herpes viruses, childhood infections (such as measles, mumps and rubella) and arboviruses. Other causes include lead or other poisoning or bleeding. Post-infectious encephalitis can result from measles, chickenpox or other infection and can follow a smallpox vaccination.

Traumatic brain injuries can occur from an automobile accident, falls, blows to the head and similar incidents.

Vitamin B1 deficiency, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is induced by alcoholism and chronic malnourishment. Short- and long-term memory loss may result.

Recreational drug use, including LSD, cocaine, PCP, alcohol and marijuana, can affect memory, as can prescription barbiturates, tricyclic antidepressants, aminophylline, methyldopa, digoxin, diuretics and others. Improvement is often noticed once the offending drug has been discontinued.

Then there’s sleep deprivation, stress, depression, job insecurity, additional responsibilities, financial concerns and information overload. Has something occurred in your life that weighs heavily? Do you have a parent who is ill, mounting bills, marital issues, school scholarships dependent on your grades, a failing car, insomnia or other issues that need to be addressed? Does your wife want to have a child but you don’t feel ready? Life today appears fraught with numerous issues that are sometimes difficult to handle. Perhaps the first step is to speak with her to bring things of concern out into the open. You may simply be picking up on something going on in her life that you don’t completely understand.

When was the last time you had an examination by your family physician? If one is overdue, schedule an appointment to make sure that there is no medical reason for your forgetfulness. Ask whether lab work or other testing is appropriate to rule out any deficiencies. Perhaps your diet is inadequate or your weight needs to be addressed. Once you tap into the basics, you can get on to other possible causes for what must be a terribly annoying situation.

Maybe counseling for one or both of you will get things back on the right track. At 25, you should be at the top of your game, or at least close to the top. Get your priorities straight, and then get to the bottom of things so you can remember that jar of jam at the grocery store or the pair of slacks that has been at the dry cleaners for four weeks. Consider keeping a pencil and small calendar in your shirt pocket. Making notes of responsibilities, appointments and honey-dos should be beneficial. Openness and a positive attitude will help.

Because I touched on insomnia, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Sleep/Wake Disorders.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and a $2 check or money order to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Be sure to mention the title or print an order form off my website at

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