symptom glossary

Short Term Memory Loss



Short-term memory is the ability to store small amounts of information for a limited amount of time. Miller’s Law states that the capacity of an average person’s short-term memory is 7±2 objects, and lasts for a matter of seconds. This means that when given a series of items to remember, most people can remember 5-9 of those items, the average being 7.¹

Short-term memory problems have an organic root in Superficial Siderosis patients. Personality and mood disorders, such as increased irritability, anxiety, and depression are known issues experienced by people with cerebellar degeneration.² Neuropsychologists suggest stressors from depression may exacerbate memory problems. Memory is one of the higher-brain functions. A person suffering from major depression may have trouble initiating tasks, making decisions, planning future actions, or organizing thoughts.

Studies have also shown that cortisol contributes to memory loss, especially short-term memory loss, because of the harm it does to brain cells. Cortisol will be released into your system during times of stress, which is why those with severe anxiety are at risk for developing memory loss problems.³

Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain,” Jason Radley, assistant professor in psychology at the UI and corresponding author on the paper. Like a rock on the shoreline, after years and years it will eventually break down and disappear.

Superficial Siderosis patients suffering short-term memory problems are encouraged to use written reminders, phone alarms (for medication and appointments), and auditory/visual reminders when starting household tasks (cooking) to help complete tasks.


Updated June 19, 2018

Sources: Superficial siderosis is a rare neurologic disease characterized by progressive sensorineural hearing loss, cerebellar ataxia, pyramidal signs, and neuroimaging findings revealing hemosiderin deposits in the spinal and cranial leptomeninges and subpial layer. The disease progresses slowly, and patients may present with mild cognitive impairment, nystagmus, dysmetria, spasticity, dysdiadochokinesia, dysarthria, hyperreflexia, and Babinski signs. Additional features reported include dementia, urinary incontinence, anosmia, ageusia, and anisocoria. Superficial siderosis MedGen UID: 831707 •Concept ID: CN226971 •Finding Orphanet: ORPHA247245
¹Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W. & Anderson, M. C. (2010). Memory. Psychology Press: New York.
³Adrenocortical Status Predicts the Degree of Age-Related Deficits in Prefrontal Structural Plasticity and Working Memory
Rachel M. Anderson, Andrew K. Birnie, Norah K. Koblesky, Sara A. Romig-Martin and Jason J. Radley
Journal of Neuroscience 18 June 2014, 34 (25) 8387-8397; DOI:
E Cooper, Freya & Grube, Manon & Von Kriegstein, Katharina & Kumar, Sukhbinder & English, Philip & P Kelly, Thomas & F Chinnery, Patrick & Griffiths, Timothy. (2011). Distinct critical cerebellar subregions for components of verbal working memory. Neuropsychologia. 50. 189-97. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.11.017. A role for the cerebellum in cognition has been proposed based on studies suggesting a profile of cognitive deficits due to cerebellar stroke. Such studies are limited in the determination of the detailed organisation of cerebellar subregions that are critical for different aspects of cognition. In this study, we examined the correlation between cognitive performance and cerebellar integrity in a specific degeneration of the cerebellar cortex: Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 6 (SCA6). The results demonstrate a critical relationship between verbal working memory and grey matter density in superior (bilateral lobules VI and crus I of lobule VII) and inferior (bilateral lobules VIIIa and VIIIb, and right lobule IX) parts of the cerebellum. We demonstrate that distinct cerebellar regions subserve different components of the prevalent psychological model for verbal working memory based on a phonological loop. The work confirms the involvement of the cerebellum in verbal working memory and defines specific subsystems for this within the cerebellum.
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