Is represented by the loss of memories, thoughts, experiences. It also implies a difficulty in learning new things and making new memories. The causes of amnesia can be neurological (due to brain injury/damage) or psychological (due to emotional shock/trauma). It usually does not affect self-identity.

 

Types of Amnesia:

 

Anterograde amnesia – short-term memory is affected; the patient cannot recall recent information; usually caused by brain trauma

 

Retrograde amnesia – patient cannot recall information/events that took place before the trauma

 

Transient global amnesia – temporary, but complete loss of memory; difficulty in forming new memories

 

Traumatic amnesia – due to a hard blow to the head, usually temporary, with a brief loss of consciousness or even coma

 

Wernike-Korsakoff’s syndrome – progressive memory loss caused by extended alcohol abuse

 

Hysterical amnesia – very rare; memories, events and identity is forgotten; the patient does not even recognize his/her own reflection; recovery occurs gradually or suddenly within a few days

 

Dissociative (psychogenic) amnesia – due to emotional shock or trauma, temporary

 

Childhood amnesia – memories from early childhood cannot be recalled

 

Posthypnotic amnesia – events that take place during hypnosis cannot be recalled

 

Source amnesia – information is recalled, but its source cannot be remembered

 

Blackout phenomenon – “temporary amnesia” usually caused by a night of heavy drinking

 

Causes

Amnesia can occur from any type of aggression/damage/disease regarding brain structures

 

Neurological amnesia (caused by injury or damage to the brain) can be provoked by:

Encephalitis (brain inflammation)

Stroke

Seizures

Poor oxygen levels due to a heart attack or respiratory distress

Chronic alcohol abuse

Medication: benzodiazepines

Brain tumor(s)

Dementia

Thiamin deficiency (nutritional disorder)

Head concussions

Intense emotional shock/trauma

Symptoms and signs

Difficulty in remembering new information (anterograde amnesia)

 

Difficulty in remembering past events, “old” information (retrograde amnesia)

 

False memories (confabulation) – memories are entirely made-up or real ones are placed in another time and setting

 

Sometimes difficult movement coordination occurs

 

Confusion, disorientation

 

Inability to access short term memory

 

Difficulty in recalling past events, memories, thoughts

 

Total memory loss

 

Inability to recognize faces

Advice

Diagnosis is given after the possibilities of Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression or brain tumor are ruled out

 

The doctor will ask a series of questions in order to understand the type and cause of amnesia; the questions may regard when and how the memory problems began, family medical history, a history of seizures, headaches, drug or alcohol abuse

 

Cognitive tests help determine the extent of memory loss and the required course of action

 

Imaging tests such as MRIs or CT scans may be requested by the doctor in order to see possible abnormalities or damage in the brain

 

Blood tests are recommended to determine infections or deficiencies that may cause amnesia

 

Treatment is directed at the cause that induced amnesia

 

The treatment is focused on memory training that implies several techniques and strategies that help the patient remember and organize information and improve his memory skills

 

Technological assistance is recommended and encouraged: smart phones, tablets, programs come in handy when it comes to reminding people daily activities such as taking pills or doing certain chores

 

For the moment, there is no medication available for most types of amnesia

 

Because Wernike-Korsakoff’s syndrome implies a lack of thiamin (vitamin B1), the treatment course includes supplementing vitamin levels and providing adequate nutrition

MISCONCEPTIONS
  • Amnesia is equal to permanent and total memory loss

     

    People that suffer from amnesia are unable to recall their name or identity

     

    Amnesia can be “cured” by a hard blow to the head

     

    Amnesia can only affect elders

Statistics

Amnesia related to head injuries can affect people of any age.

 

Transient global amnesia is diagnosed in persons that are over 50 years old.

 

Incidence of transient global amnesia in the general population: 5.2 per 100,000/year

 

Incidence of transient global amnesia in people over 50 years old: 23.5-32 per 100,000/year

 

Wernike-Korsakoff’s syndrome international prevalence: 0.2-2.8%

Did you know?

Prosopamnesia is the type of amnesia that is “responsible” with the inability to remember faces. A person can either be born with it or acquire it.

 

Sometimes, walking through a doorway may cause a kind of “temporary amnesia” – you forget what you came for or what you wanted to do there. A possible explanation would be that the act of passing through the doorway makes the brain think that a new “scene” has started and prior memories (intentions, thoughts you had before entering the room) need to be stored away. (psychologist Gabriel Radvansky’s studies, University of Notre Dame, USA).