Short term memory has declined. Looking for ways to fix it.
December 16, 2012 8:40 AM   Subscribe

In the past two years my short-term memory has gotten terrible. I forget where I put items, I forget names which I wouldn't have in the past, and I am not good at all in keeping short lists in mind. I have searched for solutions but have found no real answers.

The backstory may be a bit and drawn out and rambling -- so my apologies in advance.

I was diagnosed with OCD about 6 years ago. I have been under treatment for that and related anxiety/depression which it eventually evolved into. Overall I have made decent progress, but now something new is emerging. I am not sure if it is due to continued medication use (zoloft) or an entirely different cause.

In the past 1-1.5 years my short term memory has gotten terrible. I forget where I put items, I forget names which I wouldn't have in the past, and I am not good at all in keeping short lists in mind. For instance, I would forget to pick up an envelope off my desk, but I would remember my intent to do it once I got prompted later. I have mentioned this fact to my psychiatrist numerous times without much regard given by him (I can't emphasize this enough. Usually he would be the first and final point of contact in matters like this). I have been told that this is nothing to worry about, and to write things down to remember them. I inquired about the possibility of the medication causing this, and I was told numerous times that it was not that likely.

In the past I used to have, what I considered, an airtight memory. I would rarely misplace items, I could memorize short grocery lists and I also was able to keep an extensive mental to-do list. I was very good with recalling specific details about events or people. Now its different. I feel like a different person at times, almost approaching a blank slate.

The only other factor I can come up with is changes in my life. I have graduated from a small college in the past year, and taken a job (with a lot of short term stress) that didn't require a degree to begin with. I also have given up a lot of my outside interests and activities to stay at this job. It is sad to say, but since graduating I really have done little else but work at this completely out-of-field, hourly job. My days off honestly do not accumulate to me accomplishing much.

Within the past two years, I also was on a low carb diet, where I lost weight, but seemed to be around a time where I encountered a lot of stresses and anxiety. At the time, this seemed to set off some slight memory issues (could be correlated, or unrelated). Since that time, I have noticed sensitivities to certain foods, almost approaching IBD.

I am really at a loss at where to turn next. I don't see any obvious causes to this (I dont drink/smoke/do drugs, but I do love coffee). I am not sure if this could be due to a chemical deficiency/imbalance or just the effects of stress/depression, and loss of interest in outside activities.

I am searching for a way to get my old short-term memory back, and thus far I have come up with nothing. It is almost like I lost a portion of my self.
posted by Lugos to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, stress can have a big impact on that.

But - so can sleep loss. How much sleep are you getting? I know that I get really bad brain fog when I've been going through a couple weeks of sleep loss.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on December 16, 2012

What is your age and gender?
posted by InkaLomax at 8:47 AM on December 16, 2012

I work longer hours and have been pushing getting around 6 hrs on most nights.

I'm 24/m.
posted by Lugos at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2012

This could be caused by emotional or physical problems--depression, stress, infection, age, or a brain tumor, among a dozen other causes. You should go a doctor if your psychiatrist isn't offering much help. I'm a bit surprised you were prescribed Zoloft if you have OCD--it is an activating anti-depressant with twitchy side effects. In your position I would probably ask for a medication change, see how that went, and if the symptoms don't improve, see a regular MD. IANAD.
posted by xyzzy at 9:10 AM on December 16, 2012

Seconding starting with sleep. I have my own memory issues but they get noticeable much worse when I am short on sleep and even if worse if the sleep deficit is on-going. I'm not sure how many nights it would take you to get caught up (longer than just enough sleep to not feel sleepy) but that seems like an easy, or at least low risk, place to start.
posted by metahawk at 9:57 AM on December 16, 2012

Go to your prescribing physician, mention that your memory is shot all to hell these days.

If they don't change your medication and run some bloodwork to see what's going on with your vitamins, glucose etc then you get to change your doctor.

Sure, there could be all kinds of dietary or environmental causes (depression, sleep, dietary deficiencies). But Zoloft is an easy thing to test.

Stress and anxiety will absolutely destroy your memory. Try exercise.

Then examine diet. Switch it up to see what, if anything, works.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:12 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stress absolutely makes memory a sieve. A new lifestyle (from college student to adult in the workforce), new job with long hours, not much sleep, a diet, and fixing up your OCD? That's pretty stressful, even if they are movements in a positive direction! I wouldn't add "worrying about forgetfulness" to the stack, especially when index cards and pens are in such plentiful supply.
posted by Houstonian at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2012

SSRIs like Zoloft (especially at dosages for OCD) can affect memory. Stress can too, as others have said.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2012

This is just my experience and may have nothing to do with your cause of memory problems--

I have also dealt with memory issues in the past (and chronic pain) and a doctor once described it this way--if you're normally juggling just two balls, adding stress/illness/pain is like adding another ball or two when you're not prepared for it and you'll inevitably make mistakes somewhere. It was hard for me to accept that my brain could be affected in this way by stress or pain. Our brains have a limited bandwidth and sometimes our performance drops when something is taking up some of that bandwidth, like my back aching all day or work stress.

For me, I couldn't change that thing that was affecting my memory but I could set up "systems" to make my life easier--adding reminders that pop up on my phone and computer, putting things I need to remember to bring in my car the night before or blocking the door, putting a small notepad next to the lightswitch for important reminders, etc.

You should of course rule out any medical issues such as neurological problems or issues with your medication right away!

It is humbling and frustrating to have problems like this with your memory and I wish you the best.
posted by dottiechang at 1:28 PM on December 16, 2012

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