Alzheimer's disease is just a loss of memory

Are Memory Problems Always Alzheimer's?

Forget a name, misplace your glasses or lose the thread in a conversation - in everyday life the thinking organ often lets young and old people down. At first, forgetting actually fulfills itself important functions for memory performance. Because the brain filters out from the flood of data what is essential for a person, unimportant things are sorted out. This creates space for new content over and over again. Information that the brain would like to keep for a long time ends up in long-term memory. What is only needed for a short time, such as the shopping list, is temporarily saved in short-term memory.

The normal memory performance is subject to greater ones depending on the situation and personal constitution Fluctuations. Frequent memory problems include forgetting names, objects, plans or appointments, learning content, faces as well as word-finding disorders or orientation difficulties. Loss of memory often affects both short-term and long-term memory.

Temporary weaknesses in thinking and memory

Lack of sleep, increased stress, time pressure, psychological stress, but also positive distractions, such as being in love, can negatively affect mental performance for a short time. Even a noisy environment often makes it difficult to concentrate. On the other hand, loneliness and lack of stimulation also paralyze mental alertness. Because the thinking organ works best when it is trained and challenged. In addition, the physical condition plays a role. In the elderly in particular, lack of fluids, for example, can have a direct impact on mental performance.

Alcohol abuse and drugs have particularly serious consequences for the performance of the brain. They can also permanently damage the mind.

Memory and mental performance in old age

In old age, memory disorders affect short-term memory more often. Older people sometimes also need more time until they have learned new content and can then access it reliably. However, mental performance does not necessarily have to decrease with the years of life. There are great individual differences here. An active, healthy lifestyle also supports brain functions.

In order for the brain to be able to carry out its various tasks well, it needs sufficient nutrients and oxygen. Circulatory disorders, which often increase with age, therefore also have a negative effect on memory performance. But everyone can do a few things to prevent hardening of the arteries, including by not smoking and exercising regularly. This also helps against obesity and keeps the blood vessels and thus the mind fit.

Pathological causes of memory disorders

Doctors refer to noticeable memory impairments as amnesia. It is about the sudden or creeping inability to anchor new things in the memory and to call up memory contents again when necessary. Amnesias can capture past events (retrograde amnesia) and current information (anterograde amnesia). Depending on the cause, they go back or remain permanently.

To the list of possible pathological trigger Serious but mostly temporary memory problems include poorly controlled diabetes as well as high blood pressure. Infectious diseases such as pneumonia, thyroid disorders or deficiency symptoms such as vitamin B12 deficiency can also have a negative effect on mental performance. Treatment of the underlying disease usually allows the brain to function better again (see also section "Therapy").

Certain Medication can cause temporary memory disorders, for example if doses are too high. These include medicines for dehydration, some antihypertensive drugs, strong pain relievers and sedatives. Particularly in older people, deficits in attention and mental responsiveness can often be traced back to the undesirable effects of sleeping pills, certain antidepressants or antihistamines of the older type. If you have any doubts, you should always talk to your doctor about it, but never stop taking the drug abruptly on your own initiative.

Mental illness such as depression, anxiety disorders or psychoses influence thought processes and memory. In depression, thought processes are often blocked and the ability to concentrate is impaired. If there are also significant memory problems, those affected are often concerned that they will become demented. Decreasing mental performance does not always indicate dementia, especially in later years, but there can also be dementia Age depression hide. It is therefore important that a specialist, such as a neurologist or a psychiatrist, uses tests and detailed examinations to differentiate between a depressive illness and dementia. Because depression and the associated thought disorders can often be successfully treated in old age. Find out more about causes, symptoms and therapies in the "Depression" guide.

Disorders that occur after drastic experiences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or so-called adjustment disorders. In addition to threatening and painful memories, memory lapses can also occur. Depression, fears and physical complaints often characterize the diverse clinical picture. The advisor "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)" provides detailed information.

Special case: transient global amnesia

Suddenly the memory strikes. For those affected - mostly they are over 60 years old - the temporary (transient) memory breakdown (amnesia, also: amnestic episode) is extremely worrying. You can only remember new impressions and content for a few seconds. They no longer know why they are in a certain place and what is going on around them, but they also do not know what happened a short time before the memory loss. However, most of them know very well who they are and they naturally apply what they have learned earlier.

Possible triggers:

  • Unusual physical exertion
  • Psychological stress
  • A jump into the cold water
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Otherwise: spontaneous appearance

After a day and a night at most, usually after three to twelve hours - the memory functions normally again. A memory gap only remains for the time of the amnesia itself. In general, the event has no effect on brain performance. Sometimes, however, there can be a serious cause, such as a concussion or epilepsy (see also below). Therefore, a doctor should always clarify the short-term memory loss in order to rule out a possibly hidden disease.

Memory disorders: beginning dementia?

Alarming it becomes when clear cerebral disorders become apparent, the memory problems persist for months and further mental failures occur. The most feared causes are then Dementia due to brain breakdown processes, such as Alzheimer's disease, or the so-called vascular dementiasin which circulatory disorders permanently damage the brain. With dementia, not only memories and memory skills are lost, but also complex skills and techniques that have been learned. The mind decreases. The amnesia progresses and the personality changes permanently.

Warning sign for aincipient dementia can be among others:

  • The short-term memory in particular drops noticeably. Word finding and orientation problems also arise. Those affected can no longer think of even everyday words, they get lost more often. They also often no longer know the times or days.
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult to learn new things or it is no longer possible at all.
  • Intellectual and practical skills that were previously easily accessible suddenly cause difficulties: the math professor can no longer manage simple arithmetic problems, the hobby cook constantly burns the rice.
  • The personality also changes: those affected are either depressed, listless, exhausted or more restless and aggressive than before. Their judgment declines, they get upset about unimportant incidents, but remain completely unmoved by shocking events.
  • Everyday life is more and more impaired by the poor memory. Relatives and friends are more likely to notice the problems than those affected, who often do not want to admit them.

Often the family doctor can do this with relatively simple Testing determine if there are any signs of dementia. Further extensive examinations and tests follow at the neurologist or in a memory clinic. If a psychiatric condition is suspected, a psychiatrist is called in.

The guides "Alzheimer's Disease" and "Vascular Dementia" provide comprehensive information on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and therapies of dementia.

Memory degradation: what other possible causes are there?

The specialists will also investigate other possible reasons for decreased brain performance. These include brain tumors, cerebral infarctions, inflammation of the cerebral vessels and traumatic brain injuries. Whiplash and injuries to the cervical spine can sometimes lead to chronic problems with concentration and memory. If the brain receives too little oxygen for a short time, for example in the case of cardiac arrest, shock, suffocation or swimming accidents, chronic damage with memory problems is possible, depending on the duration and extent of the oxygen deprivation.

After an epileptic seizure, there is usually a memory gap for the duration of the seizure. Severe epilepsy with frequent seizures can also permanently reduce memory and mental performance.

Inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis can lead to memory disorders in their course. Other brain breakdown diseases that affect the mind include Parkinson's disease, Lewy body disease, and Huntington's disease.

In the course of severe alcohol disease and pronounced deficiencies, such as a vitamin B1 deficiency, or anorexia, a Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome develop. Those affected then have difficulties learning new information and storing it reliably. That is also typical Confabulate, telling made-up experiences and stories that do not fit a topic of conversation. In addition, there are orientation problems and a variety of nerve disorders, especially on the feet and legs.

Therapy of abnormal memory disorders

Depending on the clinical picture, different therapeutic measures are indicated. If the memory impairment is the result of an internal illness, mental performance is usually normalized with consistent treatment.

In the case of high blood pressure, a good adjustment of the pressure values ​​using the right medication can help prevent the development of brain disorders later on. This also applies to unfavorable blood lipid values. Conscientious blood sugar management is an essential precautionary measure for people with diabetes in order to maintain mental performance for a long time. Read more about diagnosis and therapies for the various diseases in the relevant guides (see links in the text). You can find specific information on diabetes at

Aim of treatmentAlzheimer's disease or other progressive dementia is to maintain the patient's independence for as long as possible. Targeted training of memory functions and everyday skills as part of psychosocial therapies help here. It is important for the relatives to get comprehensive advice. Self-help groups provide additional support (see also link below). Medicines, so-called antidementia drugs, can improve mental abilities for a certain period of time and delay the deterioration in brain performance, especially if the patient receives them at an early stage of the disease.

For fear of the diagnosis, many sufferers delay a necessary visit to the doctor and try to ignore the first warning signs. It brings early action Especially in the case of dementia, the best chances of making living conditions as optimal as possible.

You will find suggestions and entertaining tasks with which you can train your memory in a playful way in our special "Brain jogging - the joy of learning".

Technical literature and editorial staff

Möller, H-J, Laux G, Deister A: Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Stuttgart, Thieme Verlag 2009
Mumenthaler M, Mattle H: Neurologie, Stuttgart, Thieme Verlag 2012