Sudden memory loss is a rapid onset of the inability to recall memories accurately. This can include memories of events that occurred recently, as well as older memories, depending on the areas of the brain involved. This condition has a number of causes, with trauma to the skull being one of the most common reasons to develop sudden memory loss. In some patients, the memory loss is reversible and the patient may recover with time. Other patients experience permanent loss of memories and may have difficulty forming new memories if the damage is extensive.
Injury to the brain caused by a skull trauma can damage the areas of the brain involved in storing and recalling memories. Strokes can also be a cause of sudden memory loss, as brain cells are damaged during the stroke. Certain medications, as well as illegal drugs, have been known to cause this condition, and it can also be associated with neurological diseases. In all cases, the condition appears abruptly.
Patients may be able to remember the past but not recent experiences, or vice versa. Some patients experience both short- and long-term memory loss. Commonly, changes in behavior are observed as well. Memory loss can cause depression, agitation, and confusion as patients struggle to recall things and become frustrated by not being able to remember. In cases where patients have an underlying disease associated with the memory loss, the disease may also get worse.
Care for patients with sudden memory loss involves providing support while waiting to see if the patient recovers. Pressuring patients is generally not recommended, as it can cause emotional distress. Providing simple prompts to people with memory loss, such as, "Hello, I'm Julia, your supervisor at work," helps people orient themselves and can reduce stress. People with sudden memory loss may not have good memories, but their other mental faculties can be intact and they usually retain critical thinking and reasoning skills unless the damage to the brain is extensive.
Therapy sometimes helps patients recover memories, and in other cases, patients naturally recover their memories after hours, days, or weeks. In cases where sudden memory loss is permanent, people can discuss options for long-term patient management, like providing regular reminders and prompts, keeping the environment familiar, and monitoring the patient for any further signs of injury to the brain. Some patients may need aides or assistants but can still be active members of their communities.