Amnesia is a loss of memory caused by damage to areas of the brain necessary for processing memories.  In some cases, the episode of memory loss is temporary, also known as transient global amnesia. However, for some individuals, amnesia is permanent.

While dementia often includes memory loss, it is not the same as amnesia. 

Causes and risks

Any disease or injury that affects the brain can potentially cause amnesia. The most common causes include:

  • Stroke
  • Brain infection
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Long-term alcohol abuse
  • Brain tumor
  • Degenerative brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
  • Seizures
  • Some medications
  • Concussion, caused by a head injury
  • Emotional shock or trauma


Amnesia symptoms included an impaired ability to learn new information (anterograde amnesia) and an inability to recall past events and previously familiar information (retrograde amnesia).

The majority of individuals with amnesia have difficulty with short-term memory and can’t retain new information. They can often remember memories from childhood while recent memories are lost. Other symptoms include confusion, false recollections or disorientation.

Diagnosis and testing

If you or a loved one is experiencing unexplained memory loss, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

If amnesia is suspected, your doctor will recommend a complete evaluation to rule out other causes of memory loss. This will include a physical exam, cognitive tests, and diagnostic testing, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) 


After diagnosis, patients receive an individualized treatment plan that uses cognitive strengths to compensate for weaknesses. Amnesia treatment may include occupational therapy, medications and memory aids such as smart technologies, notebooks, wall calendars and pill reminders.