Memory loss


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.

Alternative Names

Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Amnestic syndrome


Normal aging may cause some forgetfullness. It's normal to have some trouble learning new material, or needing more time to remember it.

However, normal aging does NOT lead to dramatic memory loss. Such memory loss is due to other diseases. Sometimes, memory loss may be seen with depression. It can be hard to tell the difference between memory loss and confusion due to depression.

Some types of memory loss may cause you to forget recent or new events, past or remote events, or both. You may forget memories from a single event, or all events. 

Memory loss may cause you to have trouble learning new information or forming new memories.

The memory loss may be temporary (transient), or permanent.


Memory loss can be caused by many different 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.

Causes of memory loss include:

Home Care

A person with memory loss needs a lot of support. It helps to show them familiar objects, music, or photos.

Write down when the person should take any medication or complete any other important tasks. It is important to write it down.

If a person needs help with everyday tasks, or 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 questions about the person's medical history and symptoms. This will almost always include asking questions of family members and friends. They should come to the appointment.

Medical history questions may include:

Tests that may be done include:


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.

Review Date: 2/16/2012
Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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