A significant memory loss is known under the medical name of amnesia. This condition may occur on its own or as a symptom of another health condition. Amnesia can negatively affect memories or making difficult to create and store new memories. However, this condition can be reversed by treating the underlying condition but in some cases, it may occur permanently.

What is Amnesia?

The term “amnesia” means “forgetfulness” and it comes from ancient Greek. However, this condition is more serious and it involves a person being unable to remember some important events from their lives.

Amnesia Types

This health condition is classified by experts into two main categories. For example retrograde amnesia (when a person cannot recall memories from the past) and anterograde amnesia (amnesia type in which an individual is not able to form new memories). Check below for other amnesia forms:

  • Dissociative Amnesia – Usually, the cause of this amnesia type is a mental disorder. For example traumatic experiences, abuse, and severe psychological distress. As per studies, this is a brain defense mechanism against bad experiences.
  • Infantile Amnesia – Approximately all people have this amnesia type because almost no one remembers things from infancy.
  • Transient Global Amnesia – This is a health condition that commonly lasts roughly 1 day and includes both anterograde and retrograde amnesia.
  • Post-traumatic Amnesia – In such cases, amnesia happens due to certain injuries and can involve different forms of amnesia.

How Common is Amnesia?

This condition is considered not common on its own causes but very common due to other causes. For example, brain injuries and Alzheimer’s disease are serious risk factors for developing this condition. Roughly 24 million people in the entire world suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.


People who experience amnesia may experience the following symptoms. For example:

  • Certain changes in the ability to remember something that happened to you
  • Difficulty remembering faces and names
  • Do not remember locations and how to get them
  • Forget about some planned events

In some circumstances, people with amnesia may experience a confabulation. When it happens the brain tries to fill the memory with some details and make a mistake. For example, a confabulation can be a misremembering about what day the last event happened or certain details from your past. Commonly, people who experience confabulation are inoffensive and do not intend to lie and they believe their memory is accurate. However, it occurs without their knowledge.


Healthcare providers classified amnesia causes into two groups. For example neurological and psychological causes. Check below some examples:

Neurological Causes

These causes involve a disruption in brain activity or damage to the brain. Examples include:

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Cerebral hypoxia (a lack of oxygen that leads to brain damage)
  • Brain tumors (either cancerous or noncancerous)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Medicines and recreational drugs (such as sedatives, anesthesia medicines, and others)
  • Epilepsy and seizures (including temporal lobe epilepsy)
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Degenerative brain conditions (such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and others)
  • Stroke
  • Transient global amnesia
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (this is a serious health condition that usually happens due to a severe vitamin B1 deficiency with alcohol use disorder)
  • Head injuries (including concussions, traumatic brain injuries-TBIs, and others)

Psychological Causes

People may experience memory loss due to that occurs due to some mental health problems. For example dissociative disorders (including dissociative amnesia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others). In most cases, these causes involve traumatic events and severe mental or emotional distress.


Physicians usually diagnose this health condition by asking you and your loved ones questions about your life, current events, symptoms, medical history, and yourself. Additionally, some imaging scans are also used because they can help your physician confirm this condition if you have one. Check below some tests:

  • Neurological and physical examinations
  • Neuropsychological assessment
  • CT (computed tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Blood tests (to check for infections, vitamin and mineral levels, and others)
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)


There is no treatment available to cure amnesia. However, proper treatment can reverse it and reduce the symptoms. Mostly, treatment methods are different among people because they depend on the underlying cause and other factors. Moreover, there are many times when the brain recovers the memory on its own.

Mostly, people with amnesia do not understand what happens to them. In such cases, they are not able to make choices about medical care and a loved one should make decisions for them. Additionally, occupational therapy and cognitive rehabilitation can help some people with memory problems. These therapies can teach an individual techniques and skills that will improve memory loss.


Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent amnesia itself but you can prevent some amnesia causes. The following tips can decrease your risk of amnesia. Examples include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Adopt a well-balanced diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Wear safety equipment (especially during physical activity)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Manage stress
  • You should not ignore eye or ear infections because they can spread to the brain
  • Get treatment for existing mental disorders
  • Keep social relationships
  • Quit or do not start using tobacco products

Ask your healthcare professional for more details.

How Long Does Amnesia Last?

The anterograde amnesia (impacts your ability to make and store memories) causes permanent memory loss. However, retrograde amnesia can improve over time but it also depends on the underlying cause.

An individual is more likely to experience permanent memory loss due to some conditions that permanently damage the brain (such as Alzheimer’s disease). In case you or a loved one have memory problems, you should visit a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I see my healthcare professional?

In most cases, loved ones usually notice if you have certain memory problems and there is no shame in admitting you need medical attention. Therefore, it is recommended to consider the following tips if a loved one will not admit that something is wrong. For example:

  • You should listen and ask how you can help.
  • Suggest an appointment with a healthcare professional.
  • It is advised to offer compassion and empathy.
  • Do not argue or take resistance personally, stay calm.
  • However, do not be afraid to ask for help yourself.

One way to maintain their quality of life is to find long-term care for loved ones. Consult with a doctor for more details.

When should I go to the emergency room (ER)?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, immediately contact your doctor or go to the nearest ER. For example sudden memory loss (either yourself or someone else).

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