Memory loss

Definition

Memory loss 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.

In severe cases, such memory impairment may interfere with daily living activities.

Alternative Names

Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Amnestic syndrome; Dementia - memory loss; Mild cognitive impairment - 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 health care provider 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. Common types of dementia associated with memory loss are:

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 provider 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 may be interviewed in-person or by phone.

Medical history questions may include:

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment depends on the cause of memory loss. Your provider can tell you more.

References

Kirshner HS, Gifford KA. Intellectual and memory impairments. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 7.

Oyebode F. Disturbance of memory. In: Oyebode F, ed. Sims' Symptoms in the Mind: Textbook of Descriptive Psychopathology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 5.


Review Date: 11/9/2021
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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