Although both amnesia and dementia involve memory loss, they are not the same condition.

Amnesia is a type of memory loss that is usually temporary, while dementia is progressive and irreversible.

Along with memory loss, dementia causes other symptoms related to thinking that may make it difficult for you to do your daily activities.

The main difference between amnesia and dementia symptoms is that amnesia affects only your memory, while dementia also affects your ability to think, reason, and use language.

Amnesia symptoms

Symptoms commonly associated with amnesia include difficulty forming new memories (anterograde amnesia) and difficulty recalling memories (retrograde amnesia).

Dementia symptoms

Symptoms of dementia include:

  • progressive memory loss that worsens over time
  • a tendency to lose things
  • a tendency to get lost
  • difficulty completing daily activities
  • personality changes

Amnesia is often caused by a brain injury, while dementia may be due to a degenerative brain condition or a metabolic condition.

Amnesia causes

Conditions that may cause amnesia include:

One form of short-term memory loss called transient global amnesia has no known cause but it is believed to be associated with head injury and extreme physical or emotional stress.

Dementia causes

The possible causes of dementia include:

The main difference in the risk factors for amnesia and dementia is that people who experience a brain injury or trauma are more at risk for amnesia, while aging and genetics increase the risk for dementia.

Amnesia risk factors

The risk factors for amnesia include:

Dementia risk factors

The risk factors for dementia include:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should speak with a healthcare professional if you’re having difficulty remembering events that happened very recently or if you’ve begun getting lost on routes that are usually familiar to you.

For both amnesia and dementia, a doctor may first try to determine what’s causing your memory loss. In both cases, after you or a caregiver provides your medical history, a doctor will perform a physical exam.

To diagnose dementia or determine the specific type of amnesia, a doctor may order brain imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan.

To determine whether you may have dementia, a doctor might use cognitive tests to assess your language, problem-solving, reasoning, and other abilities.

Amnesia may go away without treatment. Dementia has no cure, but lifestyle strategies and medications can help you manage the symptoms.

Amnesia treatment

The treatment for amnesia usually depends on its underlying cause.

If amnesia is caused by a head injury, it may resolve within minutes or months, depending on the severity of the injury.

For amnesia caused by the brain disorder Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a diet rich in vitamin B1-containing foods (such as whole grains, beans, and nuts) may help restore your memory.

In general, treatments to help you get your memory back may include:

Dementia treatment

Lifestyle changes such as becoming more socially active and exercising regularly may help improve your quality of life when living with dementia.

Depending on the cause of dementia, a doctor may prescribe some of the following medications to manage the symptoms:

To help prevent a head injury that could lead to amnesia, you can take the following precautions:

  • Wear a helmet or protective headgear when you ride a bike or play contact sports.
  • Always wear a seatbelt when you travel by car.
  • Perform strength and balance exercises to help prevent falls.

Some research suggests that a healthy lifestyle may help lower your risk of dementia.

A 2019 study of more than 196,000 adults over 60 years old with European ancestry suggests that smoking, lack of exercise, alcohol use, and unhealthy diet are some of the lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of dementia.

Like dementia and amnesia, Alzheimer’s disease involves memory loss.

Amnesia usually involves short-term memory loss that doesn’t affect your thinking skills. “Dementia” is an umbrella term for various types of memory loss, including Alzheimer’s, that affect thinking ability, memory, and reasoning.

Alzheimer’s is the most common specific type of dementia. It is a progressive disease caused by damage to nerve cells in your brain. Its symptoms gradually worsen and interfere with your daily activities.

The following are answers to some common questions about the differences between amnesia and dementia.

What’s the difference between retrograde amnesia and anterograde amnesia?

Retrograde amnesia is the inability to recall memories before the amnesia began, although you can still form new memories. This type of amnesia is usually caused by a brain injury or stroke.

Anterograde amnesia is the inability to form new memories after the amnesia began. You can recall old memories but can’t store new ones. This type is often caused by damage to your brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for forming memories.

It is possible to have both types of amnesia at the same time.

Can amnesia be cured?

Although there isn’t a cure for amnesia, the condition may go away without treatment. However, you may not be able to restore your lost memories.

How do you know if it’s memory loss or dementia?

Here are some ways to determine whether you have typical memory loss or dementia:

  • Memory loss due to factors such as aging doesn’t usually affect your thinking skills, judgment, or ability to perform daily activities. Dementia involves a progressive loss of these abilities.
  • Unlike dementia, age-related memory loss doesn’t affect your ability to learn and remember new things.
  • You’re usually aware of episodes of memory loss, but with dementia, you may not recall them.

What’s the difference between short-term memory loss and dementia?

Short-term memory loss doesn’t usually interfere with your ability to independently perform daily activities. Dementia is a progressive loss of memory that affects your thinking skills and your ability to do daily activities.

For example, with short-term memory loss, you might misplace your keys or forget someone’s name. And if you have dementia, you may get lost in familiar places.

Amnesia is not the same type of memory loss as dementia.

Dementia involves progressive memory loss and difficulties with thinking that may make it difficult to perform your daily activities.

Amnesia may be temporary and usually doesn’t interfere with your day-to-day activities. In some cases, it may go away without treatment.

Although there are no cures for amnesia or dementia, both conditions can be managed with treatments such as lifestyle strategies and medications.