A memory disorder, or memory loss, is a problem that some people have in storing or retrieving memories. It can be mild or severe and is often the result of a disease or injury that affects the brain.
One form of memory disorder is anterograde amnesia, in which you may remember events from the distant past, but will be unable to remember what happened a few minutes or hours ago. The most widely known form of memory disorder is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer's not only caused memory loss but affects thinking and behavior, too. Early evaluation is important since reversible or partly reversible medical symptoms can often be treated. Other neurologic and psychiatric conditions may have similar symptoms to memory impairment problems and can be mistaken for a neurodegenerative condition like Alzheimer's disease.
The Memory Disorders Center at Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute is dedicated to diagnosing and treating neurologic memory disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of memory loss and impairment. Patients and families gain expert treatment with the utmost compassion, sensitivity, and respect.
Symptoms of memory loss
Memory can be defined as a person’s ability to encode, retain and recall information. Disorders of memory can range from mild to severe, yet are all a result of damage to neuroanatomical structures to some degree. This damage hinders the storage, retention, and recollection of memories. Memory disorders can be progressive, as with Alzheimer's disease, or they can be immediate, as a result of a head injury.
Certain types of memory disorders may be treatable if their causes stem from health issues. For example, medication side effects, vitamin B12 deficiency, chronic alcoholism, infections or blood clots in the brain or blood are known causes of memory loss. Thyroid, kidney or liver disorders can also be causes of memory loss. Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety or depression, can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia. For instance, someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend may feel sad, lonely or worried. For older people, memory problems are sometimes a sign of a more serious underlying problem.
The neuropsychology program at the Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute provides outpatient assessments and inpatient consultations to patients.
A neuropsychological evaluation is performed to help understand how the different areas and systems of the brain are working. Examinations are usually recommended when there are symptoms or complaints involving memory or other areas of thinking. Common among adult patients are progressive cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or following an acute event, such as traumatic brain injury or stroke.
A neuropsychological evaluation typically consists of an interview and formal examination. During the interview, information that is important for the neuropsychologist to consider will be reviewed. The assessment involves paper-and-pencil tests, computerized tests and answering questions. An interview is typically held at the conclusion of the assessment, and a written report is provided to the referring doctor.
A typical neuropsychological evaluation can involve assessment of the following:
- General intellect
- Higher level executive abilities (e.g., sequencing, reasoning, problem-solving)
- Attention and concentration
- Learning and memory
- Visual-spatial abilities (e.g., perception)
- Motor and sensory abilities
- Academic skills
- Mood and personality
The evaluation can be used to understand a patient’s situation in a number of ways:
- Identification of cognitive difficulties — the examination can be utilized to identify weaknesses in specific areas of cognition. It is very sensitive to mild memory and thinking problems that might not be obvious in other ways.
- Differential diagnosis — different illnesses result in different patterns of strength and weakness. Therefore, the examination can also be used to help differentiate among illnesses. This is important since appropriate treatment depends on accurate diagnosis.
- Establishment of a baseline — sometimes the examination is used to establish a baseline or to document a person’s skills at the onset or before a cognitive problem arises. This way, later change can be measured very objectively.
- Documentation of change — following the establishment of a baseline, successive examination can be utilized to document change over the progression of a disorder, as well as the effects of surgical, medical and behavioral treatments on the patient’s neurocognitive status.
- Treatment planning — the examination can be used to identify target problems to plan treatments that use a patient’s cognitive strengths to compensate for weaknesses.
Northwell Health has established the Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders under the leadership of Peter Davies, PhD, a world-renowned Alzheimer's disease researcher. The Litwin-Zucker Center is a large research and clinical program devoted to the study of Alzheimer’s disease at every level, from basic biology to clinical trials. Nearly two dozen scientists from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research are involved in dozens of basic and clinical projects dedicated to improving the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related memory loss and impairment disorders.
The goal of the Litwin-Zucker Research Center is to figure out what causes Alzheimer’s and identify ways to detect and treat the debilitating disease. The center has a number of clinical studies that test the benefits of current treatments over the course of the disease. Our scientists work in four different labs, each with their own goals for research:
- Laboratory for Alzheimer's Disease Research
- Laboratory of Memory Disorders
- Laboratory of Transcriptional Profiling
- Program for Alzheimer's Disease: Clinical Research