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Memory loss

Definition

Memory loss (amnesia) is unusual forgetfulness. You may not be able to remember new events, recall one or more memories of the past, or both.

The memory loss may be for a short time and then resolve (transient). Or it may not go away, and, depending on the cause, it can get worse over time.

Alternative Names

Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Amnestic syndrome; Dementia - memory loss

Causes

Normal aging can cause some forgetfulness. It is normal to have some trouble learning new material or needing more time to remember it. But normal aging does not lead to dramatic memory loss. Such memory loss is due to other diseases.

Memory loss can be caused by many things. To determine a cause, your doctor or nurse will ask if the problem came on suddenly or slowly.

Many areas of the brain help you create and retrieve memories. A problem in any of these areas can lead to memory loss.

Memory loss may result from a new injury to the brain, which is caused by or is present after:

Sometimes, memory loss occurs with mental health problems, such as:

Memory loss may be a sign of dementia. Dementia also affects thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.

Other causes of memory loss include:

Home Care

A person with memory loss needs a lot of support.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam and ask about the person's medical history and symptoms. This will usually include asking questions of family members and friends. For this reason, they should come to the appointment.

Medical history questions may include:

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment depends on the cause of memory loss.

References

Kirshner HS. Approaches to intellectual and memory impairments. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 6.



Review Date: 2/10/2014
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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