Differential Diagnosis For Memory Loss

A word that binds all our thoughts, experiences and impressions is called memory. The memory function completely depends on the mental and cognitive abilities of the brain system. This article deals with the differential diagnosis for memory loss.

The Differential Diagnosis For Memory Loss

Differential Diagnosis For Memory Loss

There are different reasons or causes which lead to an involuntary memory loss. Here is a detailed differential diagnosis for memory loss.

Memory Loss Due To Certain Illness

Memory problems due to medical illness is an important differential diagnosis for memory loss. If the memory loss is due to any illness or certain deficiency, it is treatable in many cases. The diseases which can lead to loss of memory are,

  • Thyroid disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver problems
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
  • Brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Depression and other emotional problems
  • Post-traumatic anxiety and stress

There are certain deficiencies which can also lead to memory loss such as deficiency of vitamin B9, vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12. In most of the cases, the memory loss is reversible as the treatment ends or the deficiency is corrected.


Delirium is an acute disturbance in the brain functioning, another important differential diagnosis for memory loss. It may be associated with any physical illness. The difference of memory loss from delirium when compared with other disorder is the symptoms occur more suddenly. In delirium, the patient presents symptom of loss of consciousness along with reduced awareness or clarity of surroundings, hallucinations, incoherent speech, disturbed sleep, and disturbed physical activity.

Memory Loss Due To Aging

As the age advances, a person’s ability, to learn and to remember also deteriorates. There need not be any pathological factor for it. Moreover, this problem might become more pronounced in some, or could become a case of mild cognitive impairment and even dementia. Another reason for memory loss due to aging could be an emotional disorder or depression. An older adult often feels lonely after losing a loved one or leaving the job. This might lead to depression, which can leave them with a blank expression on being asked about any happening of the near past. This can very well be mistaken for memory issues. Hence, this too is a differential diagnosis for memory loss.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild cognitive impairment is a stage which occupies a position between normal aging and dementia. It involves problems of memory, language, and thinking which are greater than the normal age-related changes. The changes are observable but do not interfere with day to day activities. Patients with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia, and can be considered as a differential diagnosis for memory loss.


Another differential diagnosis for memory loss is dementia. It is a commonest problem affecting older adults. The reason might not really be aging in this case but the decline of cognitive functions such as speech, behavioral problems, and memory.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease involves progressive and significant decline of memory and orientation. This too is one of the important differential diagnosis for memory loss. In this, a type of protein known as beta-amyloid gets accumulated in the neurons making them useless. In this disease, the memory loss depends on the stage and severity of the disease. In mild phase the patient displays significant memory lapse such as getting lost in familiar places, losing conversation, and difficulty remembering dates. The patient might present mild symptoms of depression and hostility. As the phase advances i.e. in moderate phase the memory lapses are more noticeable. The patient might forget the recently happened events or even names just told. They might face trouble in cooking, personal hygiene, and even might get lost. The advances stage of Alzheimer’s is when the patient becomes totally dependent. They are unable to recognize his family members, friends, and close relatives.

Now that you are aware of the differential diagnosis for memory loss, it is worth giving a thorough history and medical details to the physician. Discussing about these conditions can help in narrowing the possible underlying cause of memory loss, based on which appropriate investigations can be planned for a confirmed diagnosis.

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