March 16, 2022

What Causes Memory Loss?

6 conditions can contribute to memory loss

An illustration of a younger person comforting an older adult.

You can’t find your car keys (again!). Or you’ve started to cook your favorite meal, only to forget the recipe. Or maybe you just entered your living room, and now you’re not sure why. It seems like the memory bandit strikes at the most inconvenient times. But how do you know if a memory lapse is no big deal or something more concerning?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Not all memory loss should have you worried about Alzheimer’s disease. There are many other causes of memory loss — and most, you can treat,” says neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson, PhD. Learn what conditions cause memory loss and what you can do about it.

What health issues cause memory loss and forgetfulness?

Several health conditions can cause memory loss and forgetfulness, including:

Depression and anxiety

Can depression and anxiety cause memory loss? The short answer: Yes. “People dealing with depression or anxiety may find it harder to remember specific memories, events or facts,” says Dr. Bonner-Jackson. And some studies have even linked chronic stress with brain inflammation.

Depression has also been linked to dementia. Some studies have concluded that depression may be one of several early warning signs of dementia. “Both dementia and depression may lead to less gray matter in the brain,” he adds. “Gray matter is responsible for memory and emotions.”

Thyroid disease

An underperforming thyroid (hypothyroidism) or overperforming thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can result in cognitive symptoms. That’s because the butterfly-shaped gland is your body’s main producer of hormones that regulate organ function — including your brain’s.

“Thyroid conditions can lead to memory loss and brain fog,” says Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “But they are highly treatable. Most people get better with a daily thyroid pill.”


Maintaining steady blood sugar (glucose) levels is critical to managing diabetes. “Blood sugar is your body’s main source of fuel. If levels aren’t just right, they can affect your ability to function,” explains Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “Over time, too much blood sugar can damage the brain. Too little can lead to hypoglycemia, which in severe cases causes confusion.”


Diabetes can also damage blood vessels, increasing your heart disease and stroke risk. Without proper blood flow to your brain, your memory may suffer.


While most people recover from COVID-19 with no issues, around 20% to 30% of people develop “long COVID” symptoms weeks later. These symptoms include memory problems, especially when storing and recalling new memories. Scientists are still trying to figure out who’s most likely to have cognitive issues after a COVID-19 infection. Some think it results from brain inflammation.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is an illness you can get from ticks. When an infected tick bites you, it may pass bacteria into your bloodstream over several days.

“Lyme disease causes inflammation throughout your body and in your nervous system,” says Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “One of the main symptoms of Lyme disease is a bullseye rash where the tick bit you. Without prompt treatment, symptoms can progress to memory loss and mood changes, along with a host of other issues. Thankfully, antibiotics can help.”

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Dementia is a brain disorder that can affect memory and other mental functions. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most well-known types of dementia. Dementia damages and destroys brain cells. The resulting memory loss often starts mild and gradually becomes more severe.

Certain medications can help with symptoms for a time. “If you suspect dementia or you’re at risk, see a doctor for an evaluation,” says Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “Your doctor can help create a personalized plan to stave off worsening memory loss and other symptoms for as long as possible.”

Medications that can cause memory loss

Some medications are the ultimate “Catch-22”: While they may ward off disease and help you function, they can also lead to harmful side effects.


Drugs that may cause memory loss and confusion include:

  • Antidepressants.
  • Antihistamines.
  • Anti-nausea medications.
  • Bladder relaxants.
  • Blood pressure medications.
  • Statins.
  • Steroids.
  • Tranquilizers.

“As you age, you may be more vulnerable to these negative side effects,” notes Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any new brain fog or confusion. If your medication is to blame, there are many alternatives out there. We can switch your medication to avoid these effects.”

How to improve your memory

Dr. Bonner-Jackson says there are proven ways to boost brain health, which may help lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“But keep in mind that memory loss does not automatically mean there’s something wrong with your health or that you will develop Alzheimer’s. Resolving the problem may involve practicing meditation or other stress-busting techniques, getting more sleep or eating a balanced diet,” explains Dr. Bonner-Jackson. “The key is to pay attention to memory loss and talk to your doctor to figure out what’s causing it.”

Related Articles

Illustration of confused worman.
October 19, 2020
Memory Loss in Women — Is It Age or Menopause?

Decreasing levels of estrogen affect brain function

Close up of person pouring a cup of coffee
February 23, 2024
Does Caffeine Help Headaches?

It’s all about the amount — try to stick to 100 to 150 milligrams a day to reduce and prevent a pounding, throbbing head

blurred person looking out window in background with glass of wine and bottle in foreground
February 21, 2024
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Brain?

Even one drink can have an impact on your cognitive function leading to slurred speech, blurred vision and impaired memory

female on couch reading a nasal spray bottle label
February 20, 2024
What To Know About Nasal Spray for Migraines

Among the options is a fast-acting medication that offers relief in as little as 15 minutes

two people doing jumping jacks on pavement outside
February 19, 2024
How Exercise Can Help Boost Your Memory

Cardio is great for improving cognition, but strength and balance training are just as important

Caregiver and elderly male with head bent down
February 2, 2024
After Your Stroke: How To Handle 14 Common Complications

Your age, the type of stroke you had, the cause and the location can all impact your recovery

close up of caregiver's hands helping elderly person using a walker
January 2, 2024
Long-Term Care Options for Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s critical to understand the wishes of your loved one and seek their involvement whenever possible

female caregiver with hand on back of elderly woman in wheelchair
December 25, 2023
How to Care For Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

Your loved one may need help with daily activities, managing nutritional challenges and adapting their living space

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture