The basic mechanisms behind memory are dynamic - like plugging a laptop into an Ethernet cable -- the strength of the network determines how the event is translated within your brain. The responsible structure is the hippocampus as part of the limbic system at medial temporal lobe.
Nerve cells communicate through synaptic connections when certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow the transmission of these signals) are present. A neurotransmitter is acting as an email. If you're busy and you receive one or two emails, you might ignore them. But, if you are bombarded with hundreds of emails from the same person, saying basically the same thing, all at the same time, you will likely begin to pay attention and start a conversation with the sender: Why on earth are you sending me all these emails?
Likewise, your ability to recall and remember certain memories depends on maintaining the strength of this long-term connection between synaptic contacts. "The brain is a plastic organ," You use it, or you lose it. As the synapses and pathways between neurons are used, they gain the ability to become strengthened or permanently enhanced. This is the building block of how memory works."
Occasionally forgetting things is a part of life and explains why people may have reminders on their smartphones or sticky notes on their refrigerators. But permanent forgetfulness might be an alarming symptom due to conditions as
- Depression, as depression impairs neurogenesis or the creation of neurons.
- Sleep Deprivation, as storing occurs while you sleep.
- Smoking, as cigarettes thin the brain’s cortical thickness, a major marker of cognitive decline.
- Stress, as chronic stress increases cortisol level, the stress hormone. Continued exposure can impair the hippocampus and therefore, worsen learning and memory.
- Multi-Tasking, as constant flip-flopping will never let you focus on just one task.
- Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency.
- Medication as antidepressants, sleeping pills, pain medications, steroids, cholesterol lowering statins.
- Conversations – If you can’t recall specific words and phrases, listen more intently. Don’t multitask! Pay full attention and keep a journal.
- Keys/items –Designate a spot and make it a habit.
- Memories – Document in a daily journal. Sleep enough.
- Songs – Play a song on repeat.
- Names and People –Repeat their name out loud and look for distinct facial features.
Potential signs of dementia:
- Progressively worsening memory loss.
- Forgetting important information - The symptoms of dementia go beyond merely forgetting where an object was placed or when an appointment was scheduled. Symptoms include forgetting names of friends and loved ones and an inability to remember some words, include asking the same questions repeatedly.
- Personality change - Showing more aggressive behaviour, paranoia or impulsiveness.
- Disorientation - especially in new environments regarding place and time, neglecting personal safety, hygiene and nutrition.
Age-related memory loss and dementia are very different conditions, though they may share some overlap in symptoms. However, normal forgetfulness is often caused by lack of focus and it never progresses into serious territory. Dementia, on the other hand, will get worse over time.
Of the 16 million elders with age-associated memory impairment, about 1 % will develop dementia, with 60 - 80 % being Alzheimer dementia.
Diagnosis starts by taking an extensive medical history addressing your symptoms, the trigger factors, the duration and the frequency, work environment, social habits, toxic exposure, risk of infectious diseases and family history of neurological disease. Check of vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse, followed by a proper physical examination with focus on psychiatric evaluation, tests of memory, problem solving, counting, and language. Additional tests such as laboratory tests, Electroencephalography (EEG) and imaging of brain are sometimes recommended for ruling out symptomatic reasons.