Anyone who experiences sudden loss of memory for all events leading up to the present needs emergency medical care. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If a friend or family member develops these symptoms in your presence, go with him or her to the hospital. Because he or she doesn't remember recent events, you'll need to provide critical information to the doctor.
What you can do
- Stick with your loved one through the full medical evaluation. Sudden memory loss may indicate a serious health problem. Take an active role in soaking up all the information the doctor provides and making decisions about next steps.
- Note any physically or emotionally stressful events leading up to the memory loss. Important details include conflict or anxiety at work or at home, strenuous physical activity, sudden immersion in hot or cold water — anything that may have caused your loved one alarm or strain.
- Note any accompanying signs or symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or trembling.
- Write down key medical information, including any other conditions with which your loved one has been diagnosed. Also write down all medications he or she is taking.
- Write down questions to ask the doctor.
Prepare a list of questions to ask the doctor on your loved one's behalf. Although people experiencing transient global amnesia can think and speak, it's likely that they will be feeling severe distress. For transient global amnesia, some basic questions include:
- What is most likely causing my loved one's symptoms?
- What are the other possible causes for these symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do you recommend?
- Is any treatment needed now?
- What signs or symptoms should I be watching for at home?
- What signs or symptoms should prompt me to call 911 or emergency medical help?
- How soon do you expect my loved one's symptoms to improve?
- Do you expect a full recovery?
- Are there any steps my loved one can take to prevent a recurrence of this problem?
- What is the risk of long-term complications from this condition?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time.
What to expect from your doctor
The doctor is likely to ask both of you a number of questions about your loved one's symptoms and about the period leading up to the memory loss.
The doctor may ask your loved one:
- What is the last thing you remember?
- Do you know who you are?
- Do you know the person who came with you to the hospital?
- Do you have any symptoms other than memory loss?
- Are you dizzy?
- Are you having problems with balance or coordination?
- Do you feel weakness or numbness on either side of your body?
- Are you having any vision problems?
- Do your symptoms include headache?
To determine the extent of memory loss, the doctor may check your loved one's knowledge of general information — such as the name of the current president — and assess his or her ability to recall a random list of words.
The doctor may ask you:
Aug. 18, 2011
- When did your loved one's memory loss begin?
- Did the memory loss come on gradually or suddenly?
- Has anything like this ever happened before?
- What happened just before the memory loss?
- Did your loved one experience an accident that may have injured his or her head?
- Has your loved one recently experienced significant stress, conflict or loss?
- Has he or she had a seizure since symptoms began?
- Has your loved one been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
- Does he or she have a history of migraines?
- Has your loved one recently undergone any medical procedures or surgery?
- What medications is your loved one taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements?
- Davis PH. Transient global amnesia. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed May 7, 2011.
- Ropper AH, et al. Dementia and the amnesic (Korsakoff) syndrome with comments on the neurology of intelligence and memory. In: Ropper AH, et al. Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology. 9th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies. 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=3633470. Accessed May 9, 2011.
- Bartsch T. Transient global amnesia: Functional anatomy and clinical applications. The Lancet. 2010;9:205.
- Amnesias. The Merck Manuals: Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec16/ch210/ch210c.html. Accessed May 8, 2011.
- Kirshner HS. Approaches to intellectual and memory impairments. In: Bradley WG, et al. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier. 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/page.do?sid=1157892467&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-7506-7525-3..50008-X&isbn=978-0-7506-7525-3&uniqId=243694923-5. Accessed May 11, 2011.