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An Overview of Memory Disorders|young woman in jean jacket scratching her head|brain scan image of patienti with alzheimer's|paperclips and pencils being put into order

Health & Wellness

An Overview of Memory Disorders

What are the most common memory disorders and how do you know if you may have one? Highlighted below is an exploration of a variety of memory disorders and their causes. 1

When you have a condition that affects your memory, it can be very frightening. That can be even more the case if you know someone who suffers from a memory disorder. However, individuals who have a deeper understanding of memory disorders can be better equipped to handle them if the issue ever arises.

Exploring Amnesia

All memory disorders have one thing in common: they are a discrepancy in memory. A more general term for this condition is amnesia. It’s a general term for anyone who has a disturbed or lost memory, and there is a wide range of reasons to explain why an individual may be experiencing amnesia.

Types of Amnesia

Amnesia can be categorized by the cause of memory loss. Organic amnesia, also known as neurological amnesia, is caused by brain damage through physical injury or neurological disease. There are also certain drugs that can cause organic amnesia.

On the other hand, functional amnesia, also known as psychogenic amnesia, is caused by psychological factors like post-traumatic stress. Some individuals are able to “block things out” in order to move cope or survive in difficult conditions. This is a defense mechanism that makes it possible for the individual to thrive even under these conditions.

young woman in jean jacket scratching her head There are two main types of amnesia: anterograde and retrograde. Anterograde amnesia is the loss of the ability to create new memories. This means that the brain is no longer able to convert information from short-term into long-term memories. 2 This is the more common of the two types of amnesia.

Retrograde amnesia is the loss of the ability to consciously call upon pre-existing memories, or the memories created before the amnesia began.

Individuals can also experience both of these types of amnesia at the same time, which is referred to as global or total amnesia.

How Long Does Amnesia Last?

For most people who experience amnesia at some point or another, it is a temporary condition. That can be caused by events like a concussion or other trauma to the hippocampus.

It can last just a few minutes or go on for hours. For some individuals with serious memory disorders, the condition can go on for weeks or months. In the most severe cases, some individuals can end up with a memory that only functions for a few minutes at a time.

Other Memory Disorders

Beyond general amnesia, there are many other memory disorders that can depress the ability of an individual to form new memories or even function properly, in some cases. 3 These include Alzheimer’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome, dementia, Parkinson’s, Tourette syndrome, OCD, and schizophrenia.

Alcohol can have a profoundly negative effect on memory as well. Some individuals experience profound instances of amnesia after drinking too much. This can eventually lead to brain damage and significant declines in memory recall even when the individual is no longer drinking.

brain scan image of patienti with alzheimer's Alzheimer’s: The Most Well-Known Memory Disorder

Alzheimer’s may be the most well-known memory disorder and typically affects individuals over the age of 65. The disease was discovered in 1906 and was initially considered a normal part of the aging process.

However, in the 1980s, research into the disease deepened, and it was discovered that patients with the disease have unique and specific issues going on within their brains.

The precise cause of the disease is unknown, although there are many promising discoveries being made in the area of brain proteins. One guess is that Alzheimer’s disease sufferers have a deficit of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which causes other proteins to become “tangled” within nerve cell bodies.

Individuals with this disease lose their memory in a distinctive way. At first, they lose their ability to hold onto short-term memories. Eventually, they lose episodic memory or their memory of events and experiences they had in their lives. Finally, they lose semantic and procedural memory, or the ability to remember how to communicate and accomplish basic tasks.

Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease

For a long time, there was not as much distinction made between dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, as they all seemed to afflict older adults and were thought to perhaps be simply the effect of aging.

Today, researchers are making new discoveries as to why certain conditions cause specific symptoms. Dementia remains a general term for individuals who are experiencing brain deficits of many kinds.

Korsakoff’s Syndrome

Korsakoff’s Syndrome is a unique memory disorder that is often observed in individuals who struggle with alcoholism. 4 It’s caused by malnutrition and is indicative of the fact that an individual is experiencing a deficit in vitamin B1.

The condition can cause both anterograde and retrograde amnesia, as well as a condition called confabulation. Confabulation is the phenomenon of inventing memories, often because the individual has gaps in their memories of the pst.

Psychological Disorders and Memory

Many psychological disorders have been demonstrated to have a negative effect on memories. As was mentioned above, psychologists have identified the defense mechanism of amnesia as a way for individuals to cope with trauma and extreme stress.

Often the memory right before a serious trauma, physical or otherwise, is never recalled. There is some debate as to why this is, but some think it is another way the brain protects itself. Others believe that the brain is so focused on survival it does not have time to process memories.

paperclips and pencils being put into order Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Schizophrenia

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is sometimes thought of as a memory disorder because individuals who suffer from it have difficulty balancing their short-term memory with their long-term memory. This means they tend to get stuck in mental loops, having to repeat the same action over and over again in order to move forward with their lives. At the same time, individuals with OCD tend to have excellent procedural memory skills.

Individuals with schizophrenia are prone to a wide range of symptoms. Their memories are primarily affected by a decrease in their ability to remember autobiographical or episodic memories. Often, these individuals can lose touch with these kinds of memories, which can induce paranoia and dissociation.


Because of the wide range of memory disorders, there are many reasons why it is a good idea to keep your memory sharp. Overall, living a healthy and active life, as well as consciously taking part in activities that enhance the sharpness of the mind are important elements to ensure that your memory is as sharp as possible for as long as possible.

Photo credits: pathdoc/, HBRH/, AtthaponRaksthaput/, Andrey_Popov/

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