Memory Loss Treatment and Assessment

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Reader’s Question

I’m in my twenties and have a horrible memory, which is starting to affect me greatly, not only personally but also professionally. I also have issues with concentration. Here is some health information about myself:

  • I’m in good physical shape
  • Exercise three times a week
  • Eat healthy foods and take multi-vitamins
  • Don’t drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs
  • No brain injuries or traumatic events
  • I’m not depressed. Overall, I’m very happy with my life.

Just a sample of the types of things I don’t remember:

  • We have had a summer party (this year) and a New Year’s Eve party (last year), each with around 60 people over our house. I don’t remember any party whatsoever.
  • I don’t remember any of my yearly vacations with my wife.
  • I hardly remember any daily conversations with people.
  • I have very limited recall of any events, conversations, etc. over the past 20 years. Usually everything is very foggy. Even if I see pictures of events with me in them, it still does not incite any type of recall. If I do remember an event or a conversation, it is typically a 30-second span around that point in time.
  • I have a hard time learning words. I will memorize a word, say it in a sentence, write it in multiple sentences, but then forget the meaning or usage within a couple of hours or a day or two. I’ll check the dictionary again for the meaning. I have recorded how many times I have forgotten the word and went through that whole process again. When I check how many times it happens I notice that I forgot the word 10+ times and have checked it up that many times within a couple of weeks.

There is one other thing that is inhibiting. As strange as this sounds, my mind is typically blank. I really do not have constant thoughts in my mind, which causes issues with conversations, writing work reports and just in general. I don’t have anxiety issues, nor is this stress-induced. It seems to be my natural state. I really appreciate any insight that you may have and would like to thank you for your time.

Thanks,
Jay

Psychologist’s Reply

Good reporting, Jay. Let me say that if everyone would write a synopsis of medical/symptom history as clearly as you have, the incidents of inappropriate diagnoses being offered by professionals would be greatly reduced. Also, it would save you, the patient, from having to repeat yourself every time you go to a new doctor. You could simply produce a copy of your summary to the doctor for his chart. Then, the doctor could read it and focus on asking you pertinent questions instead of going through the standard introductory questions. I strongly advise everyone to write a medical summary like this for themselves, and write one for your children too. If you ever need emergency treatment, it will be invaluable to focus concerns on ongoing conditions instead of being treated in general triage.

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The reason I’m going on about your reporting is that I would recommend referral to another specialist. At this point, I think a neurologist or a neuropsychologist would better answer your question. Depending on your health insurance, neuropsychological testing may need to be ordered through a neurologist. Therefore, I think it best to go that route. It needs to be determined if your memory problem stems from an organic dysfunction or something else.

If you had this problem when you were in school, and the school did any psychological testing, it would be worth seeing whether you get your hands on a copy of the raw test data. A clinician may look at the raw test data and interpret it differently than the school. For example, there are subtests within every IQ test that can be used as a screening tool for organic dysfunction. In the United States, school psychologists routinely perform IQ tests as part of developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for students with special needs. If you can get a copy of such testing, it will help the doctor make an informed diagnosis. Once you have that, then you’ll know what course of treatment is appropriate. If it is a condition that can be improved, then the neurologist will be able to tell you how. If it cannot be improved, then you may need to refine your coping skills to compensate. Either way, there is expert help available.

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