Memory Loss: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

Memory loss, also referred to as amnesia, is an abnormal degree 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 may be limited to the inability to recall recent events, events from the distant past, or a combination of both. Although the normal aging process can result in difficulty in learning and retaining new material, normal aging itself is not a cause of significant memory loss unless there is accompanying disease that is responsible for the memory loss.

Transient global amnesia is a rare, temporary, complete loss of all memory. Anterograde amnesia refers to the inability to remember recent events in the aftermath of a trauma, but recollection of events in the distant past in unaltered. Retrograde amnesia is the inability to remember events preceding a trauma, but recall of events afterward is possible.

Memory loss has multiple causes including

  • a number of chronic medical and psychological conditions,
  • trauma,
  • medications,
  • drug or alcohol abuse, and
  • infections.

Other Causes of Memory Loss

  • Cerebrovascular Disease
  • Head Trauma
  • Malnutrition
  • Medications
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Neurosyphilis
  • Prolonged Toxin Exposure
  • Psychological/Emotional Disturbances
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Vitamin Deficiencies
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Wilson's Disease

Next Article
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.