Amnesia is the inability to remember information or events. It may be temporary or permanent.
Memory is created by complicated interactions within several parts of the brain. Most memory loss or the inability to make new memories is caused by damage to the brain. It may be caused by trauma, an illness like a brain infection, stroke, or some medications.
Sometimes the cause is not known, especially with transient global amnesia.
Rarely, a psychological trauma or shock can cause a type of amnesia called dissociative amnesia. This is most often short-term amnesia.
Factors that may increase your risk of amnesia include:
Symptoms may include:
Amnesia generally does not affect general intelligence, personality, or self-identity. In other words, people with amnesia remember who they are.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will ask specific questions about memory loss and when it started. Family members may also be interviewed in order to gather information.
To help determine a cause the doctor may do the following tests:
Treatment of temporary amnesia will focus on treating the cause. This may include psychological treatment for dissociative amnesia. Some amnesia may only last a few days and will simply require observation until the amnesia has passed.
Long-term amnesia will require occupational therapy and new skills to help manage daily activities. Occupational therapy can help with skills and use memory training to better manage memory loss. Technological tools, notebooks, or reminders like photos may also help manage memory gaps.
Memory loss can be difficult for the individual, family, and friends. A therapist or support group may help you and loved ones to adjust.
American Academy of Neurology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation
Amnesia. Better Health Channel website. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/amnesia. Updated August 2014. Accessed March 8, 2016.
Amnesia treatment. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amnesia/basics/treatment/con-20033182. Updated September 4, 2014. Accessed March 8, 2016.
Memory loss (amnesia). NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/memory-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated January 12, 2015. Accessed March 8, 2016.
Transient global amnesia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115849/Transient-global-amnesia. Updated April 28, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2016.
Treating amnesia. American Academy of Neurology website. Available at: http://patients.aan.com/resources/neurologynow/?event=home.showArticle&id=ovid.com:/bib/ovftdb/01222928-200804040-00020. Accessed March 8, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardJames Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.