Got Short Term Memory Loss? Fix It Now Before It Gets Worse

We all have our share of those days when we forget things. Find out if your short-term memory loss is a concern and what to do about it.

Girl working in front of laptop looking confused

Did you forget where you last put your car keys or where you were supposed to meet your friend for brunch? It could be a bout of forgetfulness or worse, possibly short-term memory loss.

Short-term memory is a critical brain function that stores the information you need for a short amount of time. This could be for example, remembering that when the traffic light is on red, you need to stop your car. It could also be remembering something that was mentioned in a work meeting last week.

Causes of Short-Term Memory Loss

Illustration showing a healthy brain versus a brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease
Less than half of the cases of mild cognitive impairment or short-term memory loss may progress into severe dementia like Alzheimer’s disease.

Forgetting where you put things or taking a long time trying to recall the names of old friends are part of the normal aging process. The neurons in your brain take a little longer to piece together the information, just like how the rest of your body slows down or decreases in performance compared to when you were younger.

Memory loss can also be unnaturally caused by brain impairment. It could occur through direct trauma injury to the head from falling or playing high-impact sports.

Certain medications, medical conditions, or degenerative neural brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia can cause this too. In this case, the brain’s functioning is so severely compromised, that the person is unable to do basic tasks, or even remembering their loved ones. They may also have changes in their personality and temperament.

Often, short-term memory loss is associated with dementia. Malaysia’s prevalence of dementia is about 8.5% of its adult population. It is higher than the World Health Organization’s estimate of 5% to 8% of the world’s population.

Addressing and Preventing Short-Term Memory Loss 

When your short-term memory loss involves more than just misplacing things, such as not realising that you had already asked a certain question during a conversation, this could be considered a mild cognitive impairment. It doesn’t necessarily lead to dementia, but it is a possible progression between normal aging and developing severe dementia where you’re unable to live independently.

This kind of short-term memory loss could remain, worsen, or even go away. So, what can you do to address or prevent it? Both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have advice to address this. While Western medicine may focus on specific parts of the brain and its functions, TCM addresses short-term memory loss by improving the circulation of qi or vital life force.

“In TCM, we must look at the factors that disrupt the qi and blood circulation. It causes the formation and accumulation of pathogenic factors like Dampness, phlegm, Qi Stagnation and blood stasis within the meridian channels. It impedes the proper distribution of nutrients to orifices of the head and the brain,” shares Real Health Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew. 

Quality sleep, rest, and stress management 

Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep the night before, you also have some trouble getting through the day remembering and doing things? Because sleep and rest are seen as us “doing nothing”, it is often sacrificed or neglected. In fact, a lot happens in our body when we sleep. This is when our brain reprocesses and cleans up memories to keep what’s important and discard what’s not. Therefore, start getting serious about proper rest to let your brain cells regroup and refresh.

Exercise and tai chi 

Group of adults of various ages practicing tai chi in a park outside
Studies have shown that tai chi along with regular physical exercise can enhance memory function in older adults.

Exercise improves brain circulation. It shows particularly in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is the learning and memory centre. Studies have shown aerobic exercises in older people improve mild cognitive impairment.

Interestingly, tai chi, a Chinese martial art practice focused on visual-spatial choreographed movements aligned with breathing, can help reduce the risk of developing dementia. The same research also indicates that it may even be better to maintain cognitive ability in combination with other physical exercises rather than exercise alone. 

Enhance memory through new brain habits 

Developing new habits that train and discipline the brain directly also help. Attaching new memory to existing knowledge is a known method of improving cognition and memory. For example, making your new password or PIN code your wedding anniversary date in reverse could help you remember it more easily. This is not unlike how we learn nursery rhymes or connecting colours, animals, and sounds together.

Another known method is repetition and practice. An example is repeating or saying someone’s name out loud when meeting them for the first time.

Nourish the brain by nourishing the body 

It’s no secret that healthy eating practices also improve brain health. Researchers in a 20-year study found that adults with the highest daily intake of flavonoids such as those in berries were 19% less likely to report trouble with memory and thinking.

TCM herbs like ginkgo biloba can improve blood circulation in the brain. It allows better utilisation of glucose and oxygen. A common combination used is with other TCM medicinal foods such as essence of chicken

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries in a dish and on a table
Foods with flavonoids such as berries are said to be able to boost memory and thinking.

TCM Herbal Formulations to Improve Memory Loss

Stimulate brain function with these recommended formulas:

  • Yi qi cong ming tang (益气聪明汤): regenerates Spleen qi, Liver Blood and Kidney essence to nourish head orifices and brain; suitable for brain fog caused by Spleen, Liver and Kidney Deficiencies 
  • Bu zhong yi qi tang (补中益气汤): revitalises the Spleen and boosts production of qi and Blood to nourish head orifices and brain. Suitable for brain fog caused mainly by Spleen Deficiency 
  • Er long zuo ci wan (耳聋左慈丸): regenerates Liver Blood and Kidney essence to nourish head orifices and brain. Suitable for brain fog caused by Liver and Kidney deficiencies 
  • Tong qiao huo xue tang (通窍活血汤): dissipates Qi Stagnation and Blood stasis, restores and boosts qi and blood circulation to the head orifices and brain. Suitable for brain fog caused mainly by Qi Stagnation and Blood stasis 
  • Di tan tang (涤痰汤): disintegrates and expels phlegm, restores and enhances qi, blood and fluid circulation to the head orifices and brain. Suitable for brain fog caused mainly by phlegm 
  • Qiang huo sheng shi tang (羌活胜湿汤): dissipates Dampness, restores and enhances qi, blood and fluid circulation to the head orifices and brain. Suitable for brain fog caused mainly by Dampness 

Physican Yew cautions the use of the decoctions. He says, “Please always bear in mind that the herbal formulas provided are meant for varying syndromes or subsets of brain fog, characterised by different pathological combinations. You shouldn’t purchase any of them to self-medicate. Undergo a thorough consultation and proper assessment followed by professional guidance by a TCM practitioner.”

Acupressure and Acupuncture 

In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, there are some interventional modalities in TCM that can help. As shared by Physician Yew, massaging acupoints that improve qi and blood circulation in the head orifices and brain can help with brain fog,

These points include bai hui (DU20, 百会) and feng chi (GB20, 风池) for example. Acupuncture has also been shown in numerous studies to be effective in stemming the development of certain protein plaques in the brain that causes Alzheimer’s disease. 

Short term memory loss is not the final say on whether you will develop severe dementia. Taking direct and deliberate steps to address your current health to preserve and maintain the health of your brain can help reduce your likelihood of developing cognitive impairment later in the future.

While they’re not necessarily the cause, certain risk factors are associated with mild cognitive impairment. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, having experienced a stroke or head injury, and smoking. Live a healthier life, and your brain will thank you. 

References

  1. Aging and Health Research. 2022. Dementia of the ageing population in Malaysia: A scoping review of published research. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Memory. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. 2019. Memory Problems: What is Normal Aging and What is Not. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  4. StatPearls. 2022. Short Term Memory Impairment.  [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  5. National Institutes of Health. 2013. Sleep On It: How Snoozing Strengthens Memories  [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  6. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard finds flavonoids linked to sharper thinking and memory.  [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  7. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021. The Use of Ginkgo Biloba L. as a Neuroprotective Agent in the Alzheimer’s Disease. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 March 2022]. 
  8. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2022. Exercise Training Improves Memory Performance in Older Adults: A Narrative Review of Evidence and Possible Mechanisms. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  9. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2019. The effectiveness of Tai Chi for short-term cognitive function improvement in the early stages of dementia in the elderly: a systematic literature review. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 
  10. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2020. Experimental Evidence of the Benefits of Acupuncture for Alzheimer’s Disease: An Updated Review. [Accessed 8 May 2022]. 

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