Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Amnestic syndrome
Memory loss (amnesia) is unusual forgetfulness. It may refer to not being able to remember new events, not being able to recall one or more memories of the past, or both.
The cause determines whether amnesia comes on slowly or suddenly, and whether it is temporary or permanent.
Normal aging may lead to trouble learning new material or requiring a longer time to remember learned material. However, it does not lead to dramatic memory loss unless diseases are involved.
Memory loss can be seen with impaired concentration, such as with depression. It can be hard to tell the difference.
There are many areas of the brain that help you create and retrieve memories. Damage or malfunction of any of these areas can lead to memory loss.
Memory loss due to problems with specific brain areas may be different. It may involve only memory of recent or new events, passed or remote events, or both. the amnesia may be only for specific events or for all events. The problem may involve learning new information or forming new memories.
Mental or thinking abilities may still be present or may have been lost. Filling in the details with imagined events (confabulation), and disorientation to time and place may occur.
Memory loss may be for words and thoughts only, or for motor memory (the body can no longer perform specific actions). Memory loss may also be partial, meaning failing to remember only a selected group of items.
Memory loss may be short-term (called transient).
Causes of memory loss include:
The family should provide support. Reality orientation is recommended -- supply familiar music, objects, or photos, to help the person stay oriented. Some people may need support to help them relearn.
Any medication schedules should be written down so the person does not have to rely on memory.
Extended care facilities, such as nursing homes, should be considered for people whose basic needs cannot be met in any other way, or whose safety or nutrition is in jeopardy.
Call your health care provider if you have any unexplained memory loss.
The doctor will perform a thorough examination and take a medical history. This will almost always include asking questions of family members and friends. They should come to the appointment.
Medical history questions may include:
The physical examination will include a detailed test of thinking and memory (mental status or neurocognitive test), and an examination of the nervous system. Recent, intermediate, and long-term memory will be tested.
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:
Cognitive therapy, usually through a speech/language therapist, may be helpful for mild to moderate memory loss.
See: Dementia - homecare for information about taking care of a loved one with dementia.
Kirshner HS. Approaches to intellectual and memory impairments. In: Gradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann; 2008:chap 6.
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