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 (can the person remember recent events and remote events?)
- 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.
Diagnostic imaging tests — including MRI, CT scan and electroencephalogram — may be ordered to look for damage or abnormalities in the brain. Blood tests can check for infection, nutritional deficiencies or other issues.
Oct. 11, 2011
- Amnesias. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/print/sec16/ch210/ch210c.html. Accessed June 23, 2011.
- Davis PH. Transient global amnesia. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 6, 2011.
- Simon RP, et al. Disorders of cognitive function. In: Simon RP, et al. Clinical Neurology. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Medical; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=5143601. Accessed June 23, 2011.
- Miller BL, et al. Memory loss. In: Fauci AS, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Medical; 2008. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=2885255. Accessed June 23, 2011.
- Svoboda E, et al. Compensating for anterograde amnesia: A new training method that capitalizes on emerging smartphone technologies. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 2009;15:629.
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