What Causes Sudden Short-Term Memory Loss?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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Sudden short-term memory loss may be attributed to such factors as emotional or physical trauma, stress or drug use. While most people experience momentary forgetfulness from time to time, memory loss is different in that it has an unusual cause. Although it is not necessarily permanent in nature, impaired memory can be a very frustrating and life-altering experience.

This type of memory loss is characterized by a sudden inability to recall recent events and otherwise simple memories. A person with this condition is likely to remember events from long ago, but cannot recall events that immediately preceded her or his partial memory loss. This type of impaired memory is also referred to as acute memory loss because it is not permanent and is usually reversible.

Signs of sudden short-term memory loss include the inability to recall recent events, familiar people and may even include a person’s inability to recall personal details about his or her own life. For example, it is not uncommon for a person suffering from brain trauma to not recall who she or he is or for a person recovering from a traumatic incident to be unable to recall the events immediately preceding the incident. Even when these facts are presented to the sufferer, he or she still may not possess the ability to recall them. Eventually, the specific memories of preceding events often do return, but sometimes they do not.


Emotional trauma, such as abuse or extreme fear, can cause sudden short-term memory loss. This is seen as the mind’s way of protecting the psyche from unpleasant events it is otherwise unable to cope with. In a therapeutic setting or by hypnosis, memories are usually able to return as a person acquires the tools to confidently cope with the trauma.

Brain trauma caused by conditions such as a stroke, loss of consciousness or a concussion may also cause short-term memory loss. Many times this is due to insufficient oxygen necessary for optimal brain functioning. As the cause of the trauma is treated, memory often returns.

Stress may also cause impaired memory. This may also be due to the fact that people under emotional stress tend to experience bouts of insomnia and poor sleeping patterns, which contribute to a cognitive decline. While closely related to emotional trauma, this type of sudden short-term memory loss differs in that it is often avoidable, whereas a sudden emotional trauma is generally beyond the control of its victim. It is when stress is relieved that normal recall abilities begin to return.

Drug-related memory loss is also common. Illicit drugs are commonly known to cause impaired memory, but prescription drugs may also have the same effect. Some research even suggests that sudden memory loss may be experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment.


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