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Memory loss also known as amnesia is an unusual level of forgetfulness and/or inability to recall past events. Depending on the cause, memory loss may have either a sudden or gradual onset, and memory loss may be permanent or temporary. Memory loss could be restricted to the inability to recall recent events, events from the distant past, or a combination of both. Though the normal aging process can result in difficulty in learning and retaining new information, normal aging itself is not a cause of significant memory loss unless there is an underlying disease that is responsible for the memory loss.

Definition of memory loss

Memory loss, in general, is the forgetting of information and experiences that a person would normally be able to recall easily. Memory loss (sometimes called amnesia) can affect short-term memory or long-term memory: it is a deficit in memory caused by brain damage or disease, but it can also be caused temporarily by the use of various sedatives and hypnotic drugs. The memory can be either wholly or partially lost due to the extent of damage that was caused.

Types of memory loss

The types of amnesia are various. The common ones include:

  • Anterograde amnesia: The person cannot remember new information. Things that happened recently and information that should be stored into short-term memory disappear. This usually results from a brain trauma, when a blow to the head causes brain damage, for example. The person will remember data and events that happened before the injury.
  • Retrograde amnesia: In some ways the opposite of anterograde amnesia, the person cannot remember events that occurred before their trauma, but they remember what happened after it. Rarely, both retrograde and anterograde amnesia can occur together.
  • Transient global amnesia: A temporary loss of all memory and, in severe cases, difficulty forming new memories. This is very rare and more likely in older adults with vascular (blood vessel) disease.
  • Traumatic amnesia: Memory loss results from a hard blow to the head, for instance, in a car accident. The person may experience a brief loss of consciousness or a coma. The amnesia is usually temporary, but how long it lasts normally depends on how severe the injury is. Amnesia can be an important indicator of concussion.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff’s psychosis: Extended alcohol abuse can lead to progressive memory loss that worsens over time. The person may also have neurological problems, such as poor coordination and a loss of feeling in the toes and fingers. It can also be caused by malnutrition, specifically a thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency.
  • Hysterical (fugue or dissociative) amnesia: Rarely, a person can forget not only their past but also their identity. They may wake up and suddenly have no sense of who they are. Even if they look in the mirror, they do not recognise their own reflection. A driving license, credit cards, or ID card will be meaningless. It is usually triggered by an event that the person’s mind is unable to cope with properly. The ability to remember usually returns either slowly or suddenly within a few days, but the memory of the shocking event may never come back completely.
  • Childhood amnesia (infantile amnesia): The person cannot recall events from early childhood, possibly because of a language development problem or some memory areas of the brain not fully maturing during childhood.
  • Posthypnotic amnesia: Events during hypnosis cannot be recalled.
  • Source amnesia: The person can remember certain information but not how or where they got that information.
  • Blackout phenomenon: A bout of heavy drinking can leave a person with memory gaps, where they cannot remember chunks of time during the binge.
  • Prosopamnesia: The person cannot remember faces. People can either acquire it or be born with it.

Causes of Memory Loss

Many factors can cause memory loss. These factors include:

  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Use of alcohol or drugs and some prescription medications
  • Anaesthesia from recent surgery
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, or bone marrow transplant
  • Head injury or concussion
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Certain types of seizures
  • Brain tumor or infection
  • Brain surgery or heart bypass surgery
  • Mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dissociative disorder
  • Emotional trauma
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Neurodegenerative illnesses such as Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or Parkinson’s disease
  • Migraine

Some of these conditions are treatable and, in some cases, memory loss can be reversed.


Progressive memory loss is a symptom of dementia. Other symptoms include difficulty with reasoning, judgment, language, and thinking skills. People with dementia can also exhibit behavioral problems and mood swings. Dementia usually starts gradually and gets more noticeable as it progresses. Dementia can be caused by a variety of diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease impairs memory and affects reasoning, judgment, and the ability to learn, communicate, and perform everyday functions. People with Alzheimer’s disease can quickly become confused and disoriented. Long-term memories are usually stronger and last longer than memories of recent events. Although it can strike earlier, this progressive disease generally affects people over age 65.



A depletion of oxygen levels can also affect your entire brain and lead to memory loss. This condition is called anoxia. If the anoxia isn’t severe enough to cause brain damage, the memory loss can be temporary.

Damage to the hippocampus

Your hippocampus is a part of the brain and limbic system responsible for memory. Its activities include forming memories, organising memories, and retrieving them when needed. Its cells are some of your brain’s most energy-hungry and fragile. They’re most easily disrupted by anoxia and other threats such toxins. When your hippocampus is impaired, you will have difficulty forming new memories. If your hippocampus is damaged in both halves of your brain, you can develop complete anterograde amnesia.

Trauma or stress

Severe trauma or stress can also cause dissociative amnesia. With this condition, your mind rejects thoughts, feelings, or information that you’re too overwhelmed to handle. A specific type of dissociative amnesia, called dissociative fugue, can lead to unexpected traveling or wandering. It can also lead to amnesia around the circumstances of traveling as well as forgetting other details of your life.


To diagnose amnesia, a doctor will do a comprehensive evaluation to rule out other possible causes of memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, depression or a brain tumor.

Medical history

The evaluation starts with a detailed medical history. Because the person with memory loss may not be able to provide thorough information, a family member, friend or another caregiver generally takes part in the interview as well.

The doctor will ask many questions to understand the memory loss. Issues that might be addressed include:

  • Type of memory loss — recent or long term
  • When the memory problems started and how they progressed
  • Triggering factors, such as a head injury, stroke or surgery
  • Family history, especially of neurological disease
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Other signs and symptoms, such as confusion, language problems, personality changes or impaired ability to care for self
  • History of seizures, headaches, depression or cancer

Physical exam

The physical examination may include a neurological exam to check reflexes, sensory function, balance, and other physiological aspects of the brain and nervous system.

Cognitive tests

The doctor will test the person’s thinking, judgment, and recent and long-term memory. He or she will check the person’s knowledge of general information — such as the name of the current president — as well as personal information and past events. The doctor may also ask the person to repeat a list of words.

The memory evaluation can help determine the extent of memory loss and provide insights about what kind of help the person may need.

Diagnostic tests

The doctor may order:

  • Imaging tests — including an MRI and CT scan — to check for brain damage or abnormalities
  • Blood tests to check for infection, nutritional deficiencies or other issues
  • An electroencephalogram to check for the presence of seizure activity


Treatment of memory loss

In most cases, amnesia resolves itself without treatment. However, if an underlying physical or mental disorder is present, treatment may be necessary.

Psychotherapy can help some patients. Hypnosis can be an effective way of recalling memories that have been forgotten.

Family support is crucial. Photographs, smells, and music may help.

Treatment often involves techniques and strategies to help compensate for the memory problem.

This may involve:

  • Working with an occupational therapist to acquire new information to replace lost memories, or to use existing memories as a basis for acquiring new information.
  • Learning strategies for organizing information, to make it easier to store.
  • Using digital aids, such as smartphones, to help with daily tasks and remind patients about important events, when to take medications, and so on. A contact list with photographs of faces may be helpful.

There are currently no drugs for restoring memory lost due to amnesia.

Malnutrition or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can involve memory loss due to a thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency, so targeted nutrition can help.

Whole grain cereals, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, lean pork, and yeast are rich sources of thiamin.


Prevention of memory loss

1) Get More Sleep – Do get enough sleep and more whenever possible. Continuous sleep deprivation will impair your cognitive abilities, brain function and memory retention ability. Numerous studies have shown that when you are sleeping, your brain is also sorting out and storing new memories and information, just like a computer software update. After all your brain is a super computer, isn’t it?

Therefore when you are not getting enough sleep, your brain will have difficulties in storing and recalling information as effectively as you normally would have. To add to further woes, no amount of so called “catch up” sleep will be able to recall back those lost memories since they were already permanently deleted from your brain’s trash folder and are no longer in the its filing cabinet.

2) Be Socially Active – Start mingling with more people more often and make more friends. Join social clubs and be engaged with their social activities regularly. Meet up and chat with your friends as often as you can. You can also meet up with people in a church or places of worship of your choice.

When I said meet more people, I certainly don’t mean chatting by computer such as in Facebook or phone apps, but physically catching up with them. This is because when you are talking and interacting with people, your brain is managing several functions simultaneously.

This is because you will need to follow and understand what others are saying, logically decipher what was being said to you and then you formulate and articulate a logically cognitive response to the other person. You are actually exercising your brain functions and processes when you are doing these things unconsciously. In other words, your brain is hard at work in receiving inputs, analysing them and then responding by presenting your outputs.

As such your brain is being continuously trained in recalling the past experiences, observations, circumstances, facts, logic and going through the process of thinking and this will boost the recollection of thoughts immensely as your brain digs deep into its rich archives to bring out those memories in response. So you are constantly challenging your memory and exercising it and therefore keeping your brain cells active, nimble and sharp.

3) Use Your Memory Actively – It is as simple as if you don’t use it, you will lose it, isn’t it? So play jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles or any problem solving puzzles often to stimulate the power of recollection and thought analysis. Take different routes to your usual destinations so as to make your brain recall which route and direction to take and the way to get there.

Learn how to play a musical instrument or learn a foreign language to force your brain to absorb new information and store them in its memory bank and then to retrieve the information efficiently when they are needed to be used like in a music performance or having a conversation in the new language. It can be fun, I assure you.

4) Eat Healthily – Eat healthily with a well balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables so as to provide good nutrients to your brain as well as your entire body. Choose low-fat protein like fish and lean meat over the fatty meat. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol as alcohol affects your brain function negatively as it can kill off your brain cells. Heavy drinkers often suffer from brain degeneration conditions and some even severely.
However, you need not avoid alcoholic beverages totally unless you choose to.
5) Regular Exercise – Exercise improves blood circulation throughout your body and to the brain. Go for brisk walks, climb the stairs instead of taking the escalators or elevators and even do some weightlifting to build muscles.

Credible studies have shown that regular exercise can lead to a more robust memory and a much sharper cognitive function. It is a known fact that regular cardiovascular exercise can vastly increase the volume of your brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is a component of your limbic system (paleomammalian cortex) and has an important role in the consolidation of information stored in your brain’s archives. So exercise more to boost your brainpower!

6) Remove Stress And Anxiety – Stress and anxiety can cause havoc and mayhem to your memory. One way to avoid stress is to laugh more often. Laughter not only reduces stress, but can also uplift your short-term memory. So watch more lighthearted funny comedies and start laughing. After all, laughter is the best medicine, isn’t it?

Go for leisurely walks in your neighbourhood parks and gardens, take in the fresh air and enjoy the nature. Take up yoga, Taichi or meditation classes to release stress. If you can afford it, go on pleasurable vacations to scenic or natural locations to take in the new refreshing sights, smells, and fresh air. The idea is to just let your hair down and do anything that can take away your stress and anxiety. In other words, just let go of yourself.

7) Take Supplements – Take health supplements to nourish and improve brain health such as omega-3 fish oil, Resveratrol (which can also be found in red wine), Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin D, Creatine and so on. There is also an all natural brain nourishing supplement developed specifically memory retention and improvement known as the brain pill.
The Brain Pill is a potent blend of active ingredients scientifically formulated to intensify blood circulation to your brain. Vital nutrients are then transported to your brain in order to keep the flexibility and nimbleness of the mind and thought processes, so that you can have a sharper and cognitive mind. Consumers of the Brain Pill have reported having improved memory, sharper cognitive skills, quicker memory retrieval, clearer focus and more vigor in thinking.


Risk factors for memory loss

  • Apsychological traumatic incident in the past can increase chances of developing dissociative amnesia (psychogenic amnesia).
  • Head trauma increases the risk of post traumatic amnesia
  • Sexual repression in childhood and cultural norms can cause infantile/childhood amnesia in adults.
  • Prolonged trauma and childhood sexual abuse can increase risk of dissociative fugue.
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Head trauma, depression, hypertension, Down syndrome and family history can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Risk factors for Korsakoff Syndrome include prolonged alcohol use, chemotherapy, dialysis, extreme dieting, severe malnutrition and genetic factors.