Memory Problems

Overview

Definition

Amnesia is when a person cannot recall new information or past events. It may go away in a short time or be lasting.

Causes

Most memory problems are caused by damage to the brain. It may be due to an accident, an illness like a brain infection, stroke, or certain medicines. Sometimes the cause is not known.

Rarely, an emotional event can cause a problem called dissociative amnesia.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk are:

  • Head and brain injuries, such as from a car accident
  • Brain damage from problems like:
    • Alcohol or substance use disorders
    • Stroke
    • An illness that affects the brain, such as encephalitis
  • Complications from procedures such as:
    • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
    • Brain surgery
  • Dementia or Alzheimer disease
  • Some medicines, such as those used as anesthesia
  • Certain changes in the body, such as changes in blood glucose levels or a lack of oxygen
  • Seizures
  • Recent physical or emotional pain or trauma
Areas of the Brain Affected by Dementia
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SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

A person may have:

  • Problems recalling new or past information
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • False memories

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. The doctor will ask about your memory loss and when it started. A loved one or family member may answer these questions if the person cannot.

These tests may be done to look for a cause:

  • A physical and neurological exam
  • Blood tests to look for things like infections
  • Images of the brain may be taken to look for damage. This can be done with:
    • MRI scan
    • CT scan
    • Cerebral angiography
  • An EEG to test the brain’s electrical activity

Treatments

Treatment

Any cause will need to be treated. The problem may go away on its own. A therapist or support group may be needed for those whose amnesia does not go away.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent this problem.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

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RESOURCES

American Academy of Neurology https://www.aan.com 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://www.familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation http://www.cnsfederation.org 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

Amnesia. Better Health Channel website. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Amnesias. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/function-and-dysfunction-of-the-cerebral-lobes/amnesias. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Kirshner HS. Transient global amnesia: a brief review and update. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2011 Dec;11(6):578-582.

Memory loss (amnesia). NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/memory-loss-amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Transient global amnesia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/condition/transient-global-amnesia  . Accessed September 4, 2020.

Transient global amnesia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/function-and-dysfunction-of-the-cerebral-lobes/transient-global-amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Treating amnesia. Brain & Life—American Academy of Neurology website. Available at: https://www.brainandlife.org/the-magazine/article/app/4/4/20. Accessed September 4, 2020.