Amnesia

You’ve probably seen the startling memory loss of amnesia portrayed on television. A mysterious stranger shows up with no memories of his past, his identity or even his name. The diagnosis is clear: amnesia! Just one more bonk on the head and it will come back to him soon…

In actuality, amnesia is unlikely to appear (let alone disapper) like on T.V., but may share some of its symptoms. Read on to learn about the various types of amnesia and its real-life treatments.

Definition of Amnesia

Amnesia is a condition caused by the loss of memory, either wholly or partially. Memory is housed in several parts of the brain’s limbic system, and any condition that interferes with the operation of the limbic system can cause amnesia.

Symptoms of Amnesia

There are two distinct types of amnesia, each displaying specific symptoms.[1]

Anterograde Amnesia – the loss of long-term memory, or the loss of the ability to form new long-term memories or memorize things. People suffering from Anterograde Amnesia may find themselves unable to remember facts or people’s names just a few minutes after hearing them because the memories do not successfully transfer from their conscious short-term memory into permanent long-term memory.

Retrograde Amnesia – the loss of already existing memories. This type of Amnesia typically targets the most recent memories, and the amount of memory lost can vary based on the severity of the case. New memories may be formed (in contrast with Anterograde Amnesia), but the patient may be unable to recall details of some of all of their lives prior to onset.

Causes of Amnesia

Amnesia can also be divided into various categories based on what causes it:

  • Dissociative amnesia, caused by various psychological factors, including mental disorder, post-traumatic stress or defense mechanisms.
  • Post-traumatic amnesia, generally caused by a head injury. This type of amnesia is typically temporary, but may be permanent and either anterograde, retrograde, or a mixture.
  • Retrograde amnesia may be caused by caused by a head injury, stroke, tumor, hypoxia, encephalitis or chronic alcoholism.
  • Certain types of Amnesia may also be caused by drug or alcohol abuse. These “blackout periods” of Anterograde Amnesia are due to the intoxicating substance impairing the formation of memories.

Effects of Amnesia

People with Amnesia are usually lucid and aware of themselves and their surroundings, but may have trouble learning new information and forming new memories. General intelligence, knowledge, attention span, awareness or judgement are not affected, nor are one’s personality or sense of identity. Amnesia should be thought of distinctly from dementia, which often includes memory loss but also other cognitive problems that lead to a decline in the patients’ ability to care for themselves.[1,2]

Living with Amnesia can be difficult for the patient experiencing memory loss. Severe cases may require assistance from family or professional caregivers.

Treatment for Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia cannot be treated with pharmacological methods. Treatment involves educating patients to help themselves establish and define their daily routines. Social and emotional support is also critical for these patients.[1]

Retrograde amnesia is typically temporary and can be treated by exposing the patients to the familiar objects or memories they have lost.[1]

References

  1. Amnesia. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/amnesia/DS01041/
  2. Memory loss (amnesia). NHS Choices. Retrieved from www.nhs.uk/conditions/memory-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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