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What Are the Different Causes of Memory Lapses?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Seemingly little things, like stress and fatigue, can sometimes cause temporary memory lapses. Some mental disorders and brain damage may also cause lapses in memory. Memory lapses are also considered a normal part of the aging process. These can be caused by a normal aging process, like menopause, or a more serious disease, like Alzheimer's disease.

Stressful situations cause a person's brain to release certain stress hormones, including cortisol. This hormone, along with adrenaline, is necessary for a person's fight-or-flight response to work properly. Cortisol, however, can also cause problems with the neurotransmitters in the brain, which are needed to recall certain bits of information. High levels of cortisol, due to prolonged stress, can cause memory lapses in some individuals.

The body, including the brain, needs a period of rest to function properly. Most people get this rest when they sleep at night. If a person does not get enough rest, his brain will typically not function properly. Along with the inability to concentrate, an person may also experience memory lapses due to this impaired brain function.

Certain mental disorders may also cause memory lapses in some people. Anxiety disorders, for instance, can cause continually high levels of cortisol, which may impact the memory. Depression can also cause concentration and memory problems in some people.

Brain damage can also be responsible for causing memory lapses. Damage to any area of the brain responsible for retrieving memories could possibly cause a person to forget certain events or details, and this is sometimes referred to as amnesia. It can happen following a head injury or illness, and it can either be temporary or permanent.

Strokes will often cause some sort of brain damage, for instance. A stroke occurs when a blocked artery or blood vessel restricts blood flow to certain parts of the brain. As a result, small portions of the brain cells in that area die. If an area of the brain that controls memory is affected, this will often cause memory lapses.

People will typically have more memory lapses as they get older. In women, this can be brought on by menopause. During menopause, estrogen levels in the body begin to drop. Since this hormone is needed to recall certain parts of the memory, especially words and names, a woman will often have temporary lapses in memory.

Alzheimer's disease occurs in some elderly people, and it is commonly associated with memory lapses. During the beginning stages of this disease, a patient may forget small things for a short period of time, such as where he put his car keys. As the disease progresses, he will begin to forget more and more things, like people's names or faces. He may begin to tell the same stories, not realizing that he already told them moments earlier. In the last stages of Alzheimer's disease, he will forget daily hygiene habits.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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