The Resilient Brain

Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

What Causes Memory Problems?

An overview of the three causes of memory problems: disease, trauma and neglect

This post is NOT devoted to memory problems related to normal aging, also called age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) where there is still some controversy whether it truly exists or there are other factors. Rather this blog is devoted to memory problems related to three main causes:

Disease and trauma we have little ability to control. Neglect, however, you do have control over. To quote William Earnest Healey, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

In my last post, I presented a detailed explanation of the various parts of memory: registration, storage and retrieval. In earlier posts, I explained about the various locations of specific functions of the brain along with an explanation of the hubs. This background information is crucial in understanding how the brain functions. It is also important for understanding the effects of the various causes related to memory problems, which may include one or several aspects, such as having an attention problem that is causing poor storage of information. Or you may have paid attention and even concentrated on a lecture, yet you didn’t store it correctly resulting in a problem with retrieval of that information. Another example is that you got the information, stored it correctly, yet your ability to retrieve is what is at fault.

Disease related problems are not due to any form of specific trauma, rather due to some form of disease, infection, or dysfunction of neurotransmitter or neuromodulators.

 

Disease and Memory problems

Disease-Related Causes:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Other Dementias
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

In Alzheimer’s Disease there is a decrease of the brain’s ability to produce a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which result in the dying of neurons and the shrinking of the brain. Also, there is a buildup of plaque on the nerves themselves. This buildup causes the hubs to be disconnected and electrical dysregulation to occur. In Parkinson’s Disease, there is a decrease in the neuromodulators, especially dopamine, which also causes the hubs to lose connection and electrical dysregulation of the brain. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammation of the myelin sheath around the nerves, thus causing short circuiting in the hubs and dysregulation. 

 

Trauma and Memory Problems

Trauma-Related Causes:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)/ Concussion
  • Stroke: Clot or Aneurysm
  • Anoxia and Hypoxia
  • Brain Tumor and Masses
  • Diabetes
  • Transient Global Amnesia
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
  • Emotional Trauma, including PTSD
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Adverse Effects of Prescription Drugs
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Trauma-related causes are due to events outside a person’s control. Each of these categories  causes dysregulation to the brain, either through disruption of neural connections, changes in brain wave regulation, or a decrease of oxygen or vital chemicals in the brain that disrupt the connectivity of the neural hubs needs for registration, storage or retrieval.

 

Neglect and Memory Problems

Both disease and trauma are in stark contrast with neglect-related causes. With disease and trauma causes, the reason for memory problems is due to events and situations outside of one’s control. The neglect-related causes are due to events where a person does have a choice and control, and makes a conscious decision not to take control of the situation.

The consequences of this decision result in almost identical symptoms as seen with disease and trauma-related causes.

Neglect-Related Causes:

What becomes difficult in determining causes is when, for example, someone is drinking while driving and then gets into an auto accident.  How much is the memory problem due to alcohol abuse versus from the concussion sustained in the accident? What is certain, however, is that to regain and improve your memory, the first step is to change the neglect-related causes first.

 

In my next blog, “how to improve your memory”, I will start with addressing the one area you have most control over, the neglect-related causes. This will be followed by conventional, complementary and alternative methods and treatments, along with practical suggestions to help you improve your memory and regain your life.

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D., is a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, Board Certified Sports Psychologist, and Trauma Therapist with over 35 years experience.

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