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.
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
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 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.
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