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 brain tumor.
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 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
The physical examination may include a neurological exam to check reflexes, sensory function, balance, and other physiological aspects of the brain and nervous system.
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 memory evaluation can help determine the extent of memory loss and provide insights about what kind of help the person may need.
Imaging tests — including MRI and CT scan — may be ordered to look for damage or abnormalities in the brain. Blood tests can check for infection, nutritional deficiencies or other issues. An electroencephalogram may be ordered to look for the presence of seizure activity.
Sept. 04, 2014
- Amnesias. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/function_and_dysfunction_of_the_cerebral_lobes/amnesias.html. Accessed June 18, 2014.
- Aminoff MJ, et al. Clinical Neurology. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=66. Accessed June 18, 2014.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed June 18, 2014.
- Ropper AH, et al. Adams & Victor's Principles of Neurology. 9th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=54. Accessed June 18, 2014.
- Woodruff BK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona. June 19, 2014.