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  • Writer's pictureDr. Domenico Pratico

What is Memory Loss?~ Domenico Pratico, MD, FCPP

What is Memory Loss?~ Domenico Pratico, MD, FCPP

Memory loss, also known as amnesia, is a broad term typically used for any issue regarding forming, storing, or recalling memories. More commonly, it is a condition we refer to anytime we are in a situation and forced to say: “I cannot remember.” Who among us has never walked into a room and forgotten why we entered? Who among us has never forgotten the exact name of an object or tool in our garage or basement? Can any of these moments be “memory loss”? Probably not. They are better defined as memory lapses, which, together with a modest decline in thinking skills, are very common as we age.

Memory loss is something more substantial—it is an unusual forgetfulness. It is a situation in which we may not be able to remember new events, recall one or more memories of the past, or both. In some cases, the memory loss may be for a short time and then completely resolve (transient memory loss). In other cases, it may persist and, in certain situations, can even get worse over time. In some severe cases, the episodes are not only more frequent but may interfere with daily living activities. Please remember that minor changes in memory as person ages are to be considered normal. This includes misplacing reading glasses, not finding the keys to the car or house, or even the occasional difficulty in finding the right word while having a conversation. Most of these situations are common and within the range of normal memory changes. Most importantly, these types of memory lapses don't typically interfere with daily life and, for this reason, should not be considered signs of dementia.

Memory loss could result from an acute condition or it can be a progressive phenomenon. If an individual is experiencing memory loss, it is very important to differentiate between an “acute or sudden” versus a “progressive/slow-moving” form of it.

Among the causes of acute memory loss are situations that abruptly damage our brain:

  • Brain bleeding

  • Environmental toxins like carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation therapy)

  • Concussion and other traumatic brain injuries

  • Stroke or other causes of brain ischemia or hypoxia

  • Medications, (including anesthetics, opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines)

By contrast, slowly progressive memory loss manifests over time (weeks and months) because of the subtle but progressive damage to brain cells. Among the conditions that most often cause progressive memory loss are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Huntington’s disease

  • Vascular disorders of the brain

  • Brain tumors

I just want to conclude by reiterating that while aging is not necessarily associated with memory loss, studies have clearly shown that it is a condition that is more likely to happen with increasing age. Finally, please do not forget that difficulties in remembering, or memory lapses, can also manifest when we are under intense stress, very tired (physically and mentally), or are experiencing issues with the quality of sleep.


These are what we call “reversible” memory impairments since, the moment we take care of these conditions (i.e., stress, sleep, etc.), our brain activity returns to its normal function.

Domenico Praticò, MD, holds the position of the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research and serves as a Professor and the Director at the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, as well as a Professor of Pharmacology at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

For more information on the research conducted by Dr. Domenico Pratico, please visit this link.

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Stay updated with the work happening at Dr. Domenico Pratico's lab by visiting the Pratico Lab website. 


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