Short-term memory is your ability to store small amounts of new information for a limited amount of time. A good example is a phone number. You meet someone new, and they give you their name and phone number. The average person will remember the phone number correctly for 18 seconds. Repeating the number to yourself will add another 20 seconds of memory, so if you silently repeat it over and over, you are able to retain it until you can enter it in your contacts.
If you become distracted by conversation or something else interrupts this repetition process you may be unable to recall the phone number correctly. Neurological problems repeatedly interfere with this repetition process in two ways.
In 1956, George Miller observed the span of a healthy person’s immediate memory and absolute judgment was limited. This theory, known as Miller’s Law, states the capacity of an average person’s short-term working memory is 7 (±2) objects, and lasts only for a short time. This means that when given a list of items, most people will be able to remember 5-9 of those items, the average being 7.¹
Short-term memory problems have both an organic and psychological root in superficial siderosis patients. Since personality and mood disorders, such as increased irritability, anxiety, and depression are experienced with cerebellar degeneration,² neuropsychologists strongly feel the stress from depression compounds memory problems. A person suffering from depression often has trouble initiating tasks, making decisions, planning future actions, or organizing thoughts, so the ability to complete the repetition process needed to retain new information is severely affected or in some cases nonexistent.
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 high risk of developing memory loss problems.³
Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain. Like a rock on the shoreline, after years and years it will eventually break down and disappear.” Jason Radley³, assistant professor psychology, UI
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. Concentration games and self-repetition exercises may be helpful in retraining your brain to retain information. Seeking help for anxiety or depression could not only help reduce or control hormonal issues but may positively affect your general wellbeing.
Updated November 7, 2018