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Central nervous system
Central nervous system


Definition:

Memory loss (amnesia) is unusual forgetfulness.



Alternative Names:

Forgetfulness; Amnesia; Impaired memory; Loss of memory; Mild cognitive impairment



Considerations:

The cause determines whether amnesia comes on slowly or suddenly, and whether it is temporary or permanent.

Normal aging may lead to trouble learning new material or requiring a longer time to remember learned material. However, it does not lead to dramatic memory loss unless diseases are involved.



Common Causes:

Home Care:

The family should provide support. Reality orientation is recommended -- supply familiar music, objects, or photos, to help the person stay oriented. Some people may need support to help them relearn.

Any medication schedules should be written down so the person does not have to rely on memory.

Extended care facilities, such as nursing homes, should be considered for people whose basic needs cannot be met in any other way, or whose safety or nutrition is in jeopardy.



Call your health care provider if:

Call your health care provider if you have any unexplained memory loss.



What to expect at your health care provider's office:

The doctor will perform a thorough examination and take a medical history. This may require asking questions of family members and friends.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Type
    • Can the person remember recent events (is there impaired short-term memory)?
    • Can the person remember events from further in the past (is there impaired long-term memory)?
    • Is there a loss of memory about events that occurred before a specific experience (anterograde amnesia)?
    • Is there a loss of memory about events that occurred soon after a specific experience (retrograde amnesia)?
    • Is there only a minimal loss of memory?
    • Does the person make up stories to cover gaps in memory (confabulation)?
    • Is the person suffering from low moods that impair concentration?
  • Time pattern
    • Has the memory loss been getting worse over years?
    • Has the memory loss been developing over weeks or months?
    • Is the memory loss present all the time or are there distinct episodes of amnesia?
    • If there are amnesia episodes, how long do they last?
  • Aggravating or triggering factors
    • Has there been a head injury in the recent past?
    • Has the person experienced an event that was emotionally traumatic?
    • Has there been a surgery or procedure requiring general anesthesia?
    • Does the person use alcohol? How much?
    • Does the person use illegal/illicit drugs? How much? What type?
  • Other symptoms
    • What other symptoms does the person have?
    • Is the person confused or disoriented?
    • Can they independently eat, dress, and perform similar self-care activities?
    • Have they had seizures?

The physical examination will include a detailed test of thinking and memory (mental status test), and an exams of the nervous system. Recent, intermediate, and long-term memory will be tested.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:



References:

Knopman DS. Regional cerebral dysfunction: higher mental functions. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 424.




Review Date: 11/13/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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