Problems with concentration & short-term memory

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Problems with concentration & short-term memory
Struggling to concentrate or remember information may be due to a medical condition. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Although older adults often experience a slight decline in their cognitive abilities, healthy adults of all ages typically retain strong short-term memory and concentration skills. Developing a deficit in memory or concentration may signify a medical or psychological impairment. Consult your physician for advice if you experience difficulty concentrating or remembering information. A neuropsychological evaluation may help to pinpoint the origin of these difficulties.

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Symptoms

Short-term memory refers to your ability to store and recall information from several minutes or hours ago. People with short-term memory problems often remember childhood events and other long-term memories but fail to recall new information. Symptoms of short-term memory deficits include failing to remember new names or dates, repeating conversations or experiencing difficulty following instructions. Concentration problems may manifest as an inability to follow a conversation, attend to a basic task or read a long book. Some people notice their own short-term memory and concentration problems, while others fail to recognise their deficits until a friend or family member points them out.

Assessment

Licensed neuropsychologists assess people with memory and concentration problems to determine the extent of their deficits. A neuropsychologist administers a series of special tests to detect deficits in memory, concentration, problem solving, visual-spatial processing and other cognitive abilities. Tests to assess short-term memory loss include the California Verbal Learning Test, Mini Mental Status Examination, Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test and the Weschler Memory Scale. Neuropsychological tests of concentration ability include digit vigilance tasks, the Continuous Performance Test and trail-making tests. Some of these tests are administered using a computer, while others are paper-and-pencil tests.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment--or MCI--is a diagnosis given to some older adults with memory or concentration problems. Unlike normal ageing, people with MCI experience significant deficits in short-term memory, attention and their ability to organise complicated information. Some people with MCI eventually develop dementia. If you begin to experience memory and concentration problems as an older adult, get screened for MCI so a physician can monitor your mental status.

Contributing Factors

Not all people with short-term memory loss or concentration problems develop dementia or other cognitive disorders. Minor cognitive problems can result from stress, anxiety, depression or trauma. Mild deficits in memory and concentration may be alleviated by engaging in certain cognitive activities. A study performed by the Mayo Clinic found that reading books, performing craft activities and playing games improves cognitive functioning. Keep your brain active to prevent further declines in short-term memory or concentration.

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