What Is Short-Term Memory Loss?

Short-term memory loss happens when things are forgotten within 30 seconds of their occurrence. This may include conversations, events, or something seen, heard, or thought that happened very recently. There are many possible causes of short-term memory loss, such as not getting enough quality sleep or experiencing emotional challenges.

Learn about short-term memory loss, the symptoms, possible causes, and more.

<p>Tony Anderson / Getty Images</p>

Tony Anderson / Getty Images

How Long Does Short-Term Memory Loss Last?

Short-term memory entails things that happened within the past 30 seconds. For example, someone may decide to write a letter to a friend but forget what they are doing 10 seconds later when they have a pen in hand. This means that something forgotten even minutes after it happens is not considered short-term memory loss.

It is considered long-term memory loss if an experience is forgotten after more than 30 seconds. Long-term memories can be recalled years after they happen. For example, people remember significant events, such as their wedding day or a favorite vacation, for life.

Early Warning Signs of Short-Term Memory Loss

Because short-term memory loss is forgetfulness within seconds of the event, early warning signs involve memory loss that happens right away. For example, someone with short-term memory loss may forget the name of a new person directly after they are introduced or forget a statement that was just said to them in conversation. This can make regular tasks challenging, interfere with daily life, and become dangerous in some situations.

Causes of Short-Term Memory Loss

There are various causes of short-term memory loss, including:

Memory loss may signify a more serious condition or disorder, such as Alzheimer's, but that is not always the case.

Memory Loss and Aging

Many people consider forgetfulness to be a normal part of aging. Though memory loss and aging may commonly occur together, it does not mean one causes the other. There are many things you can do to prevent short-term memory loss, including:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: Fueling the body properly, for example, eating vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods and avoiding sugars, helps to support proper brain function, including memory.

  • Not smoking: Regular smoking can negatively impact memory.

  • Prioritize sleep: Getting enough quality sleep helps to support proper brain function, including memory.

  • Sticking to a regular exercise routine: Physical activity supports healthy thought processing and decreases the risk of memory loss.

Related Disorders

Various health conditions are associated with short-term memory loss. Perhaps the first condition that comes to mind is Alzheimer's disease. However, there are other possibilities as well.

Some health conditions related to short-term memory loss include:

  • Alzheimer's disease involves changes in the brain that impact memory, thought processing, and behavior.

  • Hypothyroidism affects thyroid function and prevents it from making enough of the hormone responsible for regulating how your body uses energy (thyroid hormone).

  • Insomnia impacts your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, return to sleep, and get quality sleep.

  • Mild cognitive impairment affects your ability to remember things that just happened and may lead to Alzheimer's disease.

  • Sleep apnea causes challenges with breathing during sleep.

Short-Term Memory Loss Diagnosis

A short-term memory loss diagnosis is individual. For example, someone noticing memory challenges after starting a new medication may be advised to stop taking the medication to see if things improve. Evaluation by a healthcare provider to determine the best next steps is important.

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and may perform one or more of the following:

  • A neurological exam

  • Cognitive, functional, or behavioral tests

  • Brain imaging

  • Screen for mood disorders like depression

Short-Term Memory Loss Treatment

Treatment for short-term memory loss depends on the underlying cause. For example, people with Alzheimer's disease may take a prescription medication. Other options may include over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, prescription medications, or lifestyle changes.

Many treatment options involve addressing the causes of memory loss (for example, treating insomnia to prevent memory loss resulting from difficulty sleeping). Consult with a healthcare provider to ensure your treatment is safe and effective.


Lifestyle and behavior changes can go a long way toward preventing or treating short-term memory loss, including:

You may benefit from support from trusted friends or family members with more important tasks such as managing medications. Even when short-term memory loss seems normal or mild, it is important to get evaluated by a healthcare provider to rule out more serious conditions.


Short-term memory loss is forgetfulness within 30 seconds of an event. There are many possible causes, such as challenges with sleep, medication side effects, or brain injury. It may also be an early warning sign of a health condition such as Alzheimer's or hypothyroidism. A healthcare provider may perform blood tests or brain imaging to diagnose short-term memory loss. Treatment is individual and based on your health status and the underlying cause of your short-term memory loss.