Memory loss in young adults, explained

Worrisome forgetfulness is not linked to just aging and severe neurological disorders



Forgetfulness is often associated with aging and severe neurological disorders. However, memory loss can happen even to young adults and may be the result of certain lifestyle choices. 

An affected memory may cause concern for those of good health who believe they’re too young to be experiencing such. However, forgetting the name of someone you just met or failing to remember something that was just told to you are not signs of dementia—nor are they indicators of a future neurological condition. That said, numerous external factors may prevent your brain from operating at its best.

Lack of sleep

Among the various benefits of getting your afternoon nap, sleep plays an important role in ensuring a healthy memory. 

Those who lack sleep are reportedly to likely have higher blood pressure and narrowed blood vessels, which can lead to decreased blood flow inside the brain. Sleep is also when our brains sort and process any memories we’ve received throughout the day—select information is preserved while irrelevant ones are discarded. When disrupted or inadequate, this can lead to our brains not being able to process old memories, making learning less effective for the current day.

But it’s not all about getting your eight hours. In fact, excessive dozing may be an indicator of poor sleep quality (going through all the stages of sleep), which is also relevant for memory retainment.

READ: The most effective sleep habits that can improve your health and well-being

Stress and anxiety

Anxiety is a state of threat anticipation and is linked to our body’s stress response. When we perceive danger, a distress signal is sent to our brain where it orders the body to pump adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) to keep us on high alert.  Physiological symptoms of this bodily response may include an increased pulse rate and high blood pressure. 

When anxiety-ridden, we may still perceive danger without it actually being there. Extended periods of stress keep the levels of adrenaline and cortisol within our bodies high and when they encroach upon our sleep may keep us from getting good sleep—which, as mentioned earlier, is a key contributor to memory loss.

Cognitive overload

Short-term memory refers to the brain’s temporary storage system for recently absorbed information. We can only hold between five to nine of these at a time and they typically last around 30 seconds unless transferred into long-term memory.

Part of our brain’s function is to facilitate that process but it can be disrupted at times. Our short-term memory is easily affected by external stimuli and can be absorbed as new information, knocking off the others in the temporary storage. Short-term memory loss may then occur when we’re surrounded by distractions taking our attention away from the matter at hand. It can be from juggling too many tasks at once or being in an environment with too much noise or clutter.

This temporary information is typically committed into long-term memory through the use of rehearsal strategies. Examples include going through your notes repeatedly for a test, saying things aloud again and again, and even mnemonics. Another approach is memory consolidation, which also occurs during sleep.

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Remote working

The rise of remote work and flexible work-from-home setups has allowed employees greater control over their time and finances. And while COVID-19 is effectively behind us and people are free to go out and about, this workplace arrangement continues to affect how we socialize with others

Long hours at work often leaves us too tired to do anything else. And when we’re just at home, we could end up going for days without ever speaking to anyone. While not exactly that big of a deal, socialization is another manner through which we are able to subconsciously rehearse and consolidate our memories.

This is not to say remote work is bad or anything but we also have to realize that changing working setups have also affected our personal lives and that we have to be conscious of the time we allot for social interaction.


Burnout is effectively described as a state of simultaneous fatigue and helplessness. More accurately, the workplace phenomenon is said to have three dimensions: physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion; cynical feelings towards work; and reduced effectiveness. These typically strike out of nowhere and cannot simply be addressed by a mere day off.

With regard to memory loss, burnout can also be described as the outcome of a prolonged stress response. And as discussed earlier, the extended exposure to the hormones released in this process may affect sleep and memory retainment.