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I have come to this area a hundred times before.
Yet, I’m lost in this maze of streets now.
Where’s my schoolmate’s house?
Wait, schoolmate, or was she my colleague at work?
That’s your long-term memory acting up!
So, what causes long-term memory loss? What are its symptoms? And, how do you treat or prevent it?
In this article, I’ll tell you all about long-term memory loss, how to identify it, and its treatment. I’ll also show you a powerful, magnetic way to improve your memory so it stays intact even as you age!
Here’s what I’ll cover:
- What is Long-Term Memory?
- What is Long-Term Memory Loss?
- Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss
- What Causes Long-Term Memory Loss?
- How is Long-Term Memory Loss Diagnosed?
- How to Treat Long-Term Memory Loss
- 5 Ways to Boost Memory and Prevent Long-Term Memory Loss
Let’s start with a quick look at long-term memory.
What is Long-Term Memory?
Long-term memory is how your brain – over many years – encodes and remembers events, facts, and how to do things. For example, your high school teacher’s name, the route to the house you stayed in 20 years ago, and so on.
How is it different from short-term memory?
Short-term memory (or working memory) is how your brain stores things temporarily — a grocery list, or what you had for lunch today.
The more you recall memories, the better they get consolidated into permanent, long-term memories.
So, how are these memories stored in the brain?
Short-term memory activates the prefrontal cortex, frontal lobe, and parietal lobe of the brain.
The hippocampus brain region is responsible for the consolidation of info from short-term to long-term memory.
And, your long-term memory is associated with the prefrontal cortex, cerebrum, frontal lobe, and medial temporal lobe.
Types of Long-Term Memory
Your brain stores many types of long-term memories, including semantic memory, episodic memory, procedural memory, implicit memory (non-declarative memory), and explicit memory (declarative memory).
Now for a deep-dive into all things related to long-term memory loss!
What is Long-Term Memory Loss?
When you find it difficult to remember information stored in your long-term memory, you call it long-term memory loss.
Is long-term memory loss the same as dementia?
No. Long-term memory impairment isn’t the same as dementia.
But, it can be a sign of dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is an umbrella term for “diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking skills.” It could affect your ability to perform daily chores.
Different types of dementia
There are many types of dementia:
Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s disease is a kind of cognitive impairment that progressively destroys your episodic memory, thinking abilities, and the ability to do even simple tasks like writing.
Around 10% of Americans above 65 years of age are said to have Alzheimer’s disease. And Alzheimer’s disease happens to be the most common cause of dementia.
How does Alzheimer’s disease affect long-term memory?
The first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is short-term memory impairment. Long-term memory impairment follows, along with other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Lewy body dementia: This is an umbrella term for Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia — both characterized by abnormal deposits of the alpha-synuclein protein in the brain.
It usually sets in after the age of 50. Dementia symptoms are episodic loss of long-term memory, movement problems, and decision-making difficulties.
Frontotemporal dementia: This dementia is caused by progressive degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobe of the brain. It usually starts with behavior changes, and could eventually lead to severe memory impairment.
Vascular dementia: This is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain due to stroke or any other vascular brain damage. It causes progressive memory impairment and affects your attention and problem-solving abilities.
Remember, while memory impairment is a symptom of dementia, having long-term memory impairment doesn’t always mean you have dementia.
Also, note that dementia is often confused with cognitive impairment conditions like amnesia.
People with amnesia find it tough to form new memories. Others are unable to recall facts or past experiences. The two main types of amnesia are anterograde amnesia (characterized by short-term memory loss), and retrograde amnesia (inability to recall long-term memories that happened before developing amnesia).
So, is long-term memory loss different from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the intermediate stage between normal age-related memory difficulties and dementia.
People diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment have significant short-term memory impairment. But, for some people, it will eventually progress to severe long-term memory impairment and even dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.
How is long-term memory loss different from short term memory loss?
You’d be able to remember incidents from 15 years ago when you experience short-term memory loss, but you’d forget details of what happened 15 minutes ago.
Tests for short-term memory impairment
Your doctor would start with a medical history. This may be followed by cognitive function tests, blood tests, MRI or CT scans, or cerebral angiography.
How do you prevent short-term memory loss?
The simplest way to prevent short-term memory impairment is to practice various memory games, crossword puzzles, or sudoku.
Now, let’s look at the ways long-term cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s disease manifests itself.
Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss
The main symptom of long-term memory impairment is forgetfulness of important things or events that happened earlier in your life.
Here are some examples:
- Forgetting the name of the countries you’ve lived in
- Mixing up names of people and words
- Forgetfulness of common words
- Losing your way in familiar places
- Irritability and other mood changes
Let’s also look at some causes.
What Causes Long-Term Memory Loss?
Long-term memory problems could occur due to several reasons:
- Anxiety and depression
- Side effects of prescription drugs
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Fatigue and sleep deprivation
- Thyroid problems
- Drug and alcohol misuse
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Brain tumor, encephalitis, stroke, epilepsy, transient ischemic attack, transient global amnesia
- Sleep apnea
- Kidney and liver disorders
- Mild Cognitive Impairment
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
You may also wonder:
Does aging lead to memory loss?
Yes, your long-term memory can get weaker as you get older. So, occasional forgetfulness – or memory lapses like forgetting your new neighbor’s name – is normal.
This kind of forgetfulness is just a part of normal aging, and won’t affect your daily routines or the quality of your life.
But how do you know whether you should get medical help or not?
When should you see a doctor?
Visit a doctor if:
- Your memory problems start affecting your day-to-day activities
- You had a head or brain injury
- You’re disoriented or experience delirium
- You have other symptoms like headaches, sluggishness, or vision problems
Why is it essential to diagnose long-term memory impairment?
Some people hide their memory problems due to fear of social rejection or family issues.
But, you should get any memory troubles diagnosed by a doctor, because in most cases it can be treated partially or entirely.
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will help you sensitize yourself and loved ones about the illness, get proper care at home or at a facility, and get support from organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association.
So, how can it be diagnosed and treated?
How is Long-Term Memory Impairment Diagnosed?
To evaluate long-term memory problems, doctors typically perform the following steps:
- Medical history, including your family history, and any medications you take.
- Physical exam to check for symptoms like muscle weakness.
- Neurologic exam and questions to check for signs of cognitive impairment. (For example, basic calculations, naming common items, and writing short sentences.)
Depending on the results, your doctor would prescribe some or all of the following:
- A blood test to check for vitamin deficiencies
- Urine tests
- Nerve tests
- Brain imaging tests like computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Neuropsychological testing to find the exact reason for memory problems like Alzheimer’s disease
A holistic examination and the results of these tests will help your doctor make a correct diagnosis.
Based on the diagnosis, your doctor might refer you to a geriatrician, neurologist, or psychiatrist to medically manage the condition. Or they may refer you to a psychologist to help you cope with memory problems.
How to treat long-term memory impairment
The treatment of long-term memory impairment will depend on the underlying reason for your mental condition.
For instance, if cognitive impairment is due to vitamin B12 deficiency, the doctor could prescribe vitamin B12 injections. Or, if the underlying cause of your forgetfulness was a brain tumor, then you’ll need surgery to remove the tumor.
But, think about this:
Wouldn’t it be better if you could prevent memory problems instead of seeking treatment after it reaches advanced stages like Alzheimer’s disease?
5 Stimulating Ways to Boost Memory and Prevent Long-Term Memory Loss
These simple yet powerful activities will help you boost your mental function.
They work by strengthening connections between your nerves, helping compensate for any cognitive impairment due to changes in your brain.
1. Build Memory Palaces using the Magnetic Memory Method
Building Memory Palaces is one of the easiest and most powerful mnemonic techniques to improve your long-term memory!
It allows you to develop and use your spatial memory while unlocking your episodic memory, procedural memory, semantic memory, and more.
When combined with Recall Rehearsal, you’ll be able to move information into long-term memory faster — and with predictable and reliable permanence.
You can also use any other memory technique inside of Memory Palaces (but not the other way around).
Here’s how to use it:
Imagine you need to understand DNA sequencing techniques and be able to recall them later.
Mentally walk through a familiar place like your home or office. Place the facts related to one DNA technique in your entrance hall, all facts related to the next technique in your bedroom cupboard, and so on.
As for remembering complex DNA-related words, associate them with everyday words already in your memory — e.g., to remember Cytosine, associate it with cycle.
Later, take a mental walk through your home, and you’ll easily recall all the DNA techniques.
And, the more you recall (recall rehearsal), the better you’ll commit this information to your long-term memory.
2. Do regular exercise
Regular physical workouts are proven to enhance the development of new brain cells in the brain. Exercise lowers the risk of age-related brain impairment and protects the brain against degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s or Mild Cognitive Impairment.
In a study, a few participants were subject to MRI scans and a series of cognitive tests before and after a physical workout over a period of 12 weeks.
Researchers found that those who exercise regularly could remember things long after the workout was over.
So, set aside at least 30 minutes of your day to walk briskly, run, dance, or cross-country bike.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Consume a nutrient-rich, healthy diet to strengthen your long-term brain function.
Some of the best brain-boosting foods are:
- Fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel)
- Dark chocolate
- Berries like strawberries and blueberries
- Nuts and seeds like sunflower seeds and almonds
- Whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal
- Vegetables like broccoli and kale
- Green tea
Also, stay away from a high-calorie diet. Research shows that a high-calorie diet can impair memory if it causes inflammation in certain parts of the brain. In a 2009 study, women above the age of 60 who reduced their calorie intake by 30% showed significant improvement in their verbal memory scores.
4. Learn a new skill
A study showed that older people who learned a new skill showed a significant improvement in memory even when tested a year later.
A seemingly simple activity like knitting is a complex one for someone new to it. So learning it from scratch will boost your brain by strengthening the connections between various parts.
You could try to learn anything unfamiliar to you — digital photography, speaking a foreign language, playing a musical instrument, or even how to fix a motorbike.
5. Specific strategies for older people to cope with memory impairment
Older people can use these strategies to cope with forgetfulness and prevent memory decline, including symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Get enough sleep
- Make shopping lists
- Keep a detailed calendar for the week
- Play board games and card games regularly
- Pay focused attention to one thing at a time
- Keep all your things organized, like car keys and stationery
- Stay socially active
Prevent Long-Term Memory Loss the Magnetic Way
Your long-term memory is bound to decline with age and due to several other factors.
However, these strategies – especially building Memory Palaces with the Magnetic Memory Method – are sure to keep your memory razor-sharp and prevent any long-term memory decline.
To learn more about how to create and use a Memory Palace, pick up your copy of my free training.
I love these strategies!
That’s great, Jennifer. Thanks for checking them out.