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Understanding Long-Term Memory Loss : Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

What is Long-Term Memory Loss?

Long-term memory loss, commonly referred to as anterograde amnesia, is a neurological disorder where individuals struggle to form new long-term memories following a particular event or injury. This condition is notably different from short-term memory loss, which pertains to difficulties retaining recent information for short durations. Those affected by long-term memory loss often find their capacity to recall events, experiences, and facts after the onset of the condition to be compromised or drastically reduced.(1,2)

The condition primarily affects the declarative memory system, responsible for conscious recall of facts and events. This means that individuals with long-term memory loss may have difficulty remembering names, places, faces, personal experiences, and other episodic or semantic memories.

Long-term memory loss can be caused by various factors, including head injuries, strokes, neurodegenerative diseases, certain medications, infections, or other brain-related disorders. Treatment options are often focused on addressing the underlying cause and providing support to help individuals cope with their memory impairment.

It is essential to distinguish long-term memory loss from other memory-related issues, as it can significantly impact daily life and necessitate specialized care and interventions. Diagnosis and management of this condition require a comprehensive assessment by medical professionals, neurologists, and cognitive specialists.

Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss 

The symptoms of long-term memory loss can vary depending on the underlying cause and the extent of the impairment. People experiencing long-term memory loss may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty Forming New Memories: A primary characteristic of long-term memory loss is the inability to create new long-term memories after a specific event or injury. This means that individuals may have trouble recalling recent experiences, events, or information.(3)
  • Forgetfulness: They may frequently forget recent conversations, appointments, or where they placed common items like keys or glasses.(4)
  • Repetitiveness: Due to the inability to retain new information, individuals may repeat the same questions or statements within a short period.
  • Struggling with Learning: Learning new skills, concepts, or information may become challenging or impossible for those experiencing long-term memory loss.
  • Disorientation: Individuals may feel disoriented or confused about their surroundings and have difficulty navigating familiar places.
  • Impaired Recall of Past Events: Long-term memory loss can also impact the ability to recall significant past experiences, events, or personal history.(5)
  • Difficulty Recognizing People: They may have difficulty recognizing familiar faces, even of close friends or family members.
  • Misplacing Items: Frequent misplacement of belongings and an inability to retrace steps to find them may occur.

Some additional symptoms of long-term memory loss may also include:

  • Verbal Confusion: Mixing up words or using the wrong terms, such as calling a table a bed or a pen a pencil.
  • Word Retrieval Difficulty: Having trouble recalling common words during conversations or everyday interactions.
  • Spatial Disorientation: Getting lost in familiar places or having difficulty recognizing the layout of surroundings.(6)
  • Decreased Efficiency in Familiar Tasks: Taking longer to complete tasks that were previously routine and effortless.
  • Mood and Behavioral Changes: Long-term memory loss can sometimes lead to shifts in mood and behavior, such as increased irritability or emotional sensitivity.

Recognizing these symptoms can further aid in understanding the impact of long-term memory loss on an individual’s daily life and functioning.

Causes of Long-Term Memory Loss 

Long-term memory loss can have various underlying causes, ranging from medical conditions to lifestyle factors. Some common causes include:

  • Neurodegenerative Diseases: Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other forms of dementia can lead to progressive and severe long-term memory loss.(7)
  • Head Injuries: Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) resulting from accidents or sports-related incidents can cause memory impairments, especially affecting the formation of new memories.(8)
  • Stroke: Cerebrovascular accidents can damage parts of the brain responsible for memory, leading to long-term memory loss.
  • Brain Tumors: Tumors in the brain can disrupt neural pathways and impact memory functions.
  • Infections: Certain infections of the brain, such as encephalitis, can result in memory loss.
  • Chronic Alcohol or Drug Abuse: Substance abuse can lead to cognitive impairments, including long-term memory loss.
  • Aging: As individuals age, there can be normal age-related changes in memory function, but severe long-term memory loss should be distinguished from typical age-related memory decline.

At the same time, there can be some reversible causes of long-term memory loss, which include:

  • Mental Health Conditions: Memory impairment can be linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which can improve with appropriate treatment and support.
  • Side Effects of Prescription Drugs: Some medications, such as benzodiazepines used for anxiety, can lead to memory problems, but these issues are often reversible upon adjusting the medication regimen.(9)
  • Vitamin B-12 Deficiency: Inadequate levels of vitamin B-12 can impact memory and cognition, but supplementation can potentially reverse memory loss caused by this deficiency.
  • Stress: High levels of stress can affect memory function, and managing stress effectively may help restore memory capabilities.
  • Hydrocephalus: This condition, characterized by excess fluid around the brain, can cause memory issues, but appropriate medical interventions can lead to improvements in memory function.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Long-Term Memory Loss 

Diagnosing long-term memory loss typically involves a comprehensive assessment by healthcare professionals and cognitive specialists. The process may include the following steps:

  1. The healthcare provider will review the individual’s medical history, including any past head injuries, medical conditions, medications, and family history of memory-related issues.
  2. A thorough physical examination will be conducted to identify any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to memory problems.
  3. Various cognitive tests may be administered to assess memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions.
  4. MRI or CT scans of the brain can help identify structural abnormalities or brain changes that may be associated with memory loss.
  5. Blood tests can help detect vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, or other medical conditions that may be causing memory impairment.
  6. A more detailed neuropsychological assessment may be performed to evaluate specific memory functions and cognitive abilities.

The treatment of long-term memory loss depends on the underlying cause. If the memory loss is reversible and caused by conditions like stress, depression, vitamin deficiencies, or medication side effects, addressing these factors may lead to memory improvement.

For progressive and irreversible causes of memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, treatment is focused on managing symptoms and providing supportive care. This may involve:

  • Medications: Certain medications can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of dementia in some cases. Two classes of medications approved for treating Alzheimer’s disease are cholinesterase inhibitors and partial N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists. Cholinesterase inhibitors are used for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, with two types for this stage and another type applicable at any stage. NMDA antagonists are typically used in later stages of the disease.(10)
  • Cognitive Stimulation: Engaging in cognitive activities, such as puzzles, games, and memory exercises, may help maintain cognitive function and memory abilities.(11)
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, can support overall brain health.
  • Supportive Therapies: Psychological counseling and support groups can be beneficial for both individuals with memory loss and their caregivers.


Long-term memory loss presents a significant challenge, not just for the affected individuals but also for their families. Prompt medical consultation is crucial as early diagnosis can pave the way for optimal management and support. Beyond medical intervention, lifestyle choices play a pivotal role. Engaging in cognitive-stimulating exercises, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, and seeking emotional backing can substantially uplift the cognitive wellbeing and overall life quality of those grappling with memory challenges. It’s a collaborative journey, one that involves the patient, their family, and the medical community working in tandem for the best outcomes.


  1. Markowitsch, H.J., 2008. Anterograde amnesia. Handbook of clinical neurology, 88, pp.155-183.
  2. Aggleton, J.P. and Saunders, R.C., 1997. The relationships between temporal lobe and diencephalic structures implicated in anterograde amnesia. Memory, 5(1-2), pp.49-72.
  3. Marslen-Wilson, W.D. and Teuber, H.L., 1975. Memory for remote events in anterograde amnesia: recognition of public figures from newsphotographs. Neuropsychologia, 13(3), pp.353-364.
  4. Langer, K.G., 2019. Early history of amnesia. A History of Neuropsychology, 44, pp.64-74.
  5. Carlesimo, G.A., Marfia, G.A., Loasses, A. and Caltagirone, C., 1996. Recency effect in anterograde amnesia: Evidence for distinct memory stores underlying enhanced retrieval of terminal items in immediate and delayed recall paradigms. Neuropsychologia, 34(3), pp.177-184.
  6. Maeshima, S., Ozaki, F., Masuo, O., Yamaga, H., Okita, R. and Moriwaki, H., 2001. Memory impairment and spatial disorientation following a left retrosplenial lesion. Journal of clinical neuroscience, 8(5), pp.450-451.
  7. Panegyres, P.K., 2004. The contribution of the study of neurodegenerative disorders to the understanding of human memory. Qjm, 97(9), pp.555-567.
  8. Goldstein, F.C. and Levin, H.S., 1995. Post-traumatic and anterograde amnesia following closed head injury.
  9. Mejo, S.L., 1992. Anterograde amnesia linked to benzodiazepines. The Nurse Practitioner, 17(10), pp.44-50.
  10. Goldberg, E., Gerstman, L.J., Mattis, S., Hughes, J.E., Bilder, R.M. and Sirio, C.A., 1982. Effects of cholinergic treatment on posttraumatic anterograde amnesia. Archives of Neurology, 39(9), pp.581-581.
  11. Moscrip, T.D., Terrace, H.S., Sackeim, H.A. and Lisanby, S.H., 2004. A primate model of anterograde and retrograde amnesia produced by convulsive treatment. The journal of ECT, 20(1), pp.26-36.

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Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 9, 2023

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