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.
Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Amnestic syndrome; Dementia - memory loss
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:
Low levels of important nutrients or vitamins, such as low vitamin B12
A person with memory loss needs a lot of support.
It helps to show the person familiar objects, music, or and photos or play familiar music.
Write down when the person should take any medicine or do other important tasks. It is important to write it down.
If a person needs help with everyday tasks, or if safety or nutrition is a concern, you may want to consider extended-care facilities, such as a nursing home.
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:
Type of memory loss, such as short-term or long-term
Time pattern, such as how long the memory loss has lasted or whether it comes and goes
Things that triggered memory loss, such as head injury or surgery
Tests that may be done include:
Blood tests for specific diseases that are suspected (such as low vitamin B12 or thyroid disease)
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.