Many conditions and diseases could lead to temporary memory loss. The most common are considered epilepsy, brain tumors, and strokes. Drug and alcohol abuse and certain types of head injuries, such as concussions, can also cause temporary memory loss. Amnesia, which is a general term for memory loss of any type, is typically treated with therapy rather than medications and is generally more common in elderly people.
Temporary memory loss in people with epilepsy is believed to be caused by brain damage resulting from the seizures themselves. After suffering a seizure, the person commonly has no memory of events leading up to or during the seizure. The memory loss usually only lasts for a few hours, but can sometimes last for days or weeks. Frequency of the epileptic events may also have an impact on the duration and severity of memory loss. There is no treatment that is considered effective for epileptic amnesia, but people who have epilepsy typically take medication to reduce the frequency of their seizures.
Alcohol abuse may impair the brain's ability to generate new cells, while some drugs, such as marijuana, may directly affect the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is believed to process memory. Studies involving the effects of marijuana on memory seem to offer conflicting results. Some studies indicate a few months of marijuana use can have lifelong effects on memory, while other studies show the effects diminishing or disappearing entirely after only a few weeks.
Temporary memory loss is a common side effect of many prescription medications. Some studies show that more than 100 different types of commonly prescribed drugs may cause some type of amnesia. Antidepressants and barbiturates are associated with memory loss, as are some antihistamines and heart medications. In addition, drugs aimed at treating insomnia and pain can have an effect on memory.
The elderly are considered to be at higher risk for temporary memory loss. Strokes are more common in the elderly, as are diseases that cause dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that generally leads to total memory loss, but in its early stages, this is not always the case. Patients may for many years only suffer mild or temporary memory loss. This disease, though the subject of much medical research, is not fully understood.
Drug therapy is generally not considered effective in dealing with temporary memory loss. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, can sometimes help, if the memory loss is not due to injury or disease. Some psychologists have been successful by employing methods such as hypnotism to help patients regain lost memories.