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What Causes Forgetfulness?

author image J. Lucy Boyd
J. Lucy Boyd, RN, BSN has written several nonfiction books including "The Complete Guide to Healthy Cooking and Nutrition for College Students." She is frequently called upon to provide career guidance to medical professionals and advice to parents of children with challenges. She also loves teaching others to cook for their families.
What Causes Forgetfulness?
Forgetting your gloves is normal; forgetting your name is not. Photo Credit: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

Forgetfulness can prove annoying to a young person but it often becomes frightening as one ages. Forgetfulness can stem from many causes, both physical and psychological. Some causes are reversible while others can be managed with medication. So it becomes important to get regular physical examinations in order to catch problems early.

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Psychological Stressors

Excessive stress proves one common cause of forgetfulness. Heightened stress produces cortisol, which over time, causes problems with memory. Anxiety disorders also increase cortisol production. The Rutgers-Newark Memory Disorders Project explains that depression, another mental illness, causes forgetfulness as it impairs the executive functions of the brain. Other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, dissociative fugue and bipolar disorder can also cause forgetfulness.

Normal Aging

The National Institute on Aging reports that older people often have more difficulty remembering new information. This can translate to forgetfulness. It may become natural to need more time to remember a name or recall why you placed a phone call.

Medication Side Effects

Many medications can cause temporary or permanent memory loss. Some common culprits include sleeping pills, HIV medications, psychiatric drugs and blood pressure medicines. Propranolol is another drug known to cause forgetfulness; in fact, doctors sometimes prescribe it to induce reduction of memory after a catastrophic event.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Harvard Medical School describes mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as a condition less serious than dementia. Considered more than normal forgetfulness, it some cases it progresses over time to Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Other cases remain mild. In addition to forgetfulness, the person with MCI may have increased difficulty solving problems, recalling words and remembering what he has been told.


Dementia is a serious, usually permanent impairment of memory that causes extreme forgetfulness and language difficulties. The ability to communicate, reason and use good judgment becomes severely impaired. Types of dementia include Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and many lesser well-known dementias.

Other Brain-Related Causes

Forgetfulness can result because of a blood clot in the brain, a brain tumor or a brain infection. A blow to the head can also cause this condition. Brain damage from decades of alcoholism or drug abuse also proves responsible for some cases of forgetfulness.

Other Medical Causes

Some people with forgetfulness learn it results due to a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Kidney failure, liver problems and hypothyroidism may also be to blame. A low oxygen level can cause a person to become forgetful or confused.

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