What Are the Different Types of Problems with Short-Term Memory?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 December 2018
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Problems with short-term memory can include difficulties with information recall, storage, and processing. Short-term memory is often combined or confused with immediate memory. Immediate memory involves the brain's storage and recall that only lasts a few seconds. After that point, if it is information worth retaining, it becomes part of short-term memory to be reached at a later point in time.

Short-term memory, also called primary memory or active memory, is a form of memory used frequently by the brain. Things like events, people, songs, and more that are experienced within a period of a few months are short-term memories. Immediate memories are collected. Some are discarded, but others that will be used again are stored. These memories will be readily available as quick access is needed.

Many problems with short-term memory that occur are caused by brain trauma, commonly from sharp blows to the head. Retrograde and anterior grade amnesia is often a result, which causes difficulty with recall. In retrograde amnesia, a person has difficulty retrieving short-term memories that occurred before the trauma. Anterior grade amnesia causes difficulty accessing events that occurred immediately following the trauma. Severe amnesia can cause a person to lose large chunks of recent memories.


Lack of sleep and fatigue play another role in causing problems with short-term memory. In this instance, being tired causes the brain to lag. Information storage is difficult because the brain has not had ample time to rest. Research has shown that the brain retains information in the morning after a full night of sleep.

Certain prescription medications can lead to problems with short-term memory. When medications cause amnesia symptoms, the side effects are called medicine-induced amnesia. Generally, people experience fatigue or grogginess, which delays or restricts storage and recall. Information processing, or memory filing, can also be difficult. It can be compared to a filing cabinet that has become disorganized and nothing is filed where it should be; memories are scattered and difficult to retrieve quickly.

Most of the problems with short-term memory that occur are only temporary. The body adjusts to medications and the side effects subside. Brain trauma heals, as long as there is not permanent brain damage, and memory will become available slowly. Short-term memory problems that occur as a result of fatigue or sleeping problems will often resolve when the adequate amount of sleep is restored. Getting help for chronic sleep issues can help repair the brain's ability to recall information.



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