Short Term Memory Loss


Short-term memory refers to our capacity to briefly retain a small amount of fresh information. For instance, when a new acquaintance shares their phone number, the average person can have that number for about 18 seconds. Reciting the number can extend this duration by about 20 seconds, allowing one to hold onto the number until it can be saved elsewhere. However, the information may be lost if interruptions or distractions occur during this process. Neurological issues can frequently interfere with this short-term memory process.

In patients with superficial siderosis, short-term memory problems often have both organic and psychological roots. Given the cerebellar degeneration associated with the condition, which leads to personality and mood disorders like increased irritability, anxiety, and depression, stress can significantly exacerbate memory issues. Individuals suffering from such disorders often struggle with task initiation, decision-making, future planning, and thought organization, which can severely affect or even eliminate their ability to use repetition to retain new information.

Research has shown that the hormone cortisol, released during times of stress, can contribute to memory loss—particularly short-term memory loss—due to its detrimental effects on brain cells. As such, individuals with severe anxiety are particularly susceptible to memory loss problems.

According to a theory known as Miller’s Law, established by George Miller in 1956, the short-term working memory of a healthy person has limited to around 7 (±2) items and lasts only briefly. Therefore, when presented with a list of things, most people will remember 5-9 items, with an average of 7. Jason Radley, an assistant psychology professor at UI, likens the effect of stress hormones on the brain to the weathering of a shoreline rock. After years of exposure, it will eventually break down and disappear.

Known Problem Areas

Short-term memory is responsible for holding a small amount of information in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. If the areas of the brain responsible for this function are damaged, several problems may arise.

  1. Forgetfulness of recent events or conversations: A person might forget what they had for breakfast or about a conversation just a few minutes ago.
  2. Difficulty learning new information: A person may struggle to remember new information, such as names or addresses, or learn new skills.
  3. Repeatedly asking the same questions: As they forget the answers almost as soon as they’ve heard them, they might keep asking the same questions over and over again.
  4. Difficulty following multi-step instructions: They may not remember the series of tasks they’ve just been asked to do.
  5. Getting lost in familiar places: They may not remember familiar routes or landmarks, causing disorientation even in well-known environments.

Management Strategies

As for managing short-term memory problems in superficial siderosis patients, several strategies are recommended:

  1. Use Written Reminders: Write down important information to help recall later.
  2. Set Phone Alarms: Use alarms to remind of critical events such as medication times and appointments.
  3. Employ Auditory and Visual Reminders: When starting tasks, reminders can help see them through to completion.
  4. Play Concentration Games: These can help to stimulate and improve short-term memory.
  5. Practice Self-Repetition Exercises: Regularly repeating information can help to retrain your brain and enhance memory retention.

These strategies can significantly improve memory problems associated with superficial siderosis, but patients need to discuss these techniques with their healthcare provider for personalized advice. It’s important to note that symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient, depending on the progression of the disease and the specific areas of the brain affected. If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and treatment.

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 June 18, 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 determining the detailed organization 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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