Special Report

Stress and Other Things That Can Lead to Memory Loss and Brain Shrinkage

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11. Dysfunctional thyroid

The thyroid is very important for most body functions, according to Finney. “When it’s underactive, you’re tired, slow, and can’t think; when it’s overactive, you feel on edge, distracted, and can’t concentrate.” Hypothyroidism, when not enough thyroid hormone is being produced, is very common among women, especially those between 35 and 65, according to Harvard Medical School. Some studies have shown that an underactive thyroid can lead to memory loss and can also affect verbal memory.

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12. Depression

“Midlife depression has been known to be a modifiable risk factor for dementia,” Finney said. Symptoms of dementia can very often be confused for symptoms of depression. This is why it’s important to check for memory problems and treat them in people who have been diagnosed with depression, he noted. Recent research published in the Journal of Neural Transmission has suggested that people who have experienced depressive episodes may also exhibit gray matter reductions in certain areas of the brain.

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13. Certain infections

Chronic meningitis, a slowly developing meningitis that can be caused by many infections and last several weeks, has been known to cause memory problems, according to Finney. It’s also possible for fungal infections to lead to brain atrophy. If there is permanent damage to the brain from any infection, patients will eventually see brain shrinkage, he noted. AIDS and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain usually because of an infection) can also lead to cognitive impairment.

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14. Some medications

Medications often come with side effects even though not every patient experiences them. Two groups of meds – benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety and sleeping problems, and anticholinergics, taken for allergies, depression, and hypertension — are associated with a higher risk of dementia if taken for months, according to studies reviewed by the Harvard Medical School. Both types of drugs affect neurotransmitters’ function, sometimes slowing them and other times activating them. In general, medications that depress signaling in the central nervous system can cause memory loss.

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15. Stroke

A stroke happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Stroke can cause cerebral atrophy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. If parts of the brain don’t get oxygen, neurons in that area die, leading to shrinkage. Functions that are controlled by the damaged areas, whether they include speech, movement, and memory, may be affected as well.

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