Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of memory loss depend on the type of memory affected. Patients may have anterograde amnesia, retrograde amnesia, and in some cases a combination of the two (McKay 2009; Mayo Clinic 2011a). Anterograde amnesia, which can be seen in Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline, or transient global amnesia can cause people to ask the same questions repeatedly, forget important appointments, misplace objects, or leave appliances on (Cullen 2005; Owen 2007; Hamilton 2009; Kirshner 2011). Memories of recent events are the most likely to be impaired, while older memories may remain intact. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, causes people to be unable to recall events or information acquired previously (Mayo Clinic 2011a).
Diagnosing amnesia can be difficult; a comprehensive evaluation is often necessary. The first step usually involves careful examination of the patient’s medical history to determine what type(s) of memory are affected and when the amnesia began. Identification of any underlying health problems that may be causing the amnesia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, tumors, infections, epilepsy, vitamin deficiencies, medications, or brain damage, is also important (Mayo Clinic 2011a). Blood tests such as a chemistry panel and complete blood count, which may reveal underlying conditions or nutritional deficiencies, and radiological imaging of the brain, may help further identify the cause of the amnesia (Sucholeiki 2012). To precisely characterize the memory loss, specialists may administer several tests that help measure concentration, short- and long-term memory, item recall and recognition, and other mental tasks that require an intact memory (Cermak 1996; Kopelman 2007). Identifying possible causes of amnesia as well as the exact way that memory is affected can help direct treatment and coping strategies.