Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Memory change, or memory loss, is partial or complete loss of memory caused by a physical or psychological condition. Memory loss can be temporary or permanent. Memory loss ranges from temporarily forgetting a simple fact to not knowing your own name. A variety of different factors cause memory changes. It is important to know the underlying cause of memory loss so that the proper treatment can be given.
Many people experience a mild form of memory change as they age. Signs of typical age-related memory change include:
The causes of more serious memory change are divided into reversible and permanent causes. Reversible causes are temporary conditions that either resolve on their own or can be cured with the proper treatment.
Possible reversible causes of memory loss include:
Irreversible causes of memory loss are often linked to dementia. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dementia is a combination of deficiencies affecting memory, thinking, calculation, learning capacity, judgment, language, and emotional status.
Common causes of dementia are:
Other diseases that cause dementia by damaging the brain include Huntington’s disease, HIV, and late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Injuries to the brain may also cause dementia.
When memory changes begin to interfere with daily activities, contact a doctor. Prompt diagnosis can lead to a treatment regimen that may help limit or control memory loss.
During the appointment, the doctor will ask the patient a number of questions A family member or another caregiver should be present in case the patient is unable to answer some of the questions.
The doctor may ask:
Answers to these questions, along with a physical exam and some other tests, will help your physician identify the cause of your memory changes.
Without treatment, memory changes can decrease a person’s quality of life. Difficulty communicating, anger, and depression are common side effects. Memory loss may prevent people from eating at the right times, which can lead to malnutrition, and from properly taking care of their health. Patients who do not receive treatment for severe dementia are at a high risk for accidental death.
Treatment for memory changes depends on the underlying cause. If the memory changes are slight, trying new things that challenge the mind may help. Puzzles, learning a new language, or reading more may help reverse some normal age-related memory changes. Remember that severe memory loss is not a normal consequence of aging.
For reversible memory loss, doctors will attempt to treat the underlying condition. Once treated, patients usually recover from their memory changes.
Permanent memory loss is treated with medications and psychotherapy.
Medications that are typically used to slow the rate of memory loss include: donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine (Namenda)
Written by: Joseph Pritchard
Medically reviewed on: Nov 26, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.