Amnesia is a term used to cover the partial or complete loss of memory. It is most often a temporary condition and covers only a part of a person’s experience, such as immediate memory. The causes of amnesia range from psychological trauma to brain damage caused by a blow to the head or conditions such as a brain tumour, a stroke or swelling of the brain. There are many definitions covering the different types of amnesia.
There are several types of Amnesia, some of the main types are:
Anterograde amnesia: People who find it hard to remember ongoing events after suffering damage to the head. They do not tend to forget their childhood or who they are, but have trouble remembering day-to-day events.
Retrograde amnesia: People who find it hard to retrieve memories prior to an incident in which they suffer damage to the head. Sometimes people never remember the seconds leading up to the incident.
Korsakoff’s psychosis: Memory loss caused by alcohol abuse. The person’s short-term memory may be normal, but they will have severe problems recalling a simple story, lists of unrelated words, faces and complex patterns.
This tends to be a progressive disorder and is usually accompanied by neurological problems, such as uncoordinated movements and loss of feeling in the fingers and toes. If these symptoms occur, it may be too late to stop drinking.
Traumatic amnesia: This follows brain damage caused by a severe non-penetrative blow to the head, such as in a road accident. It can lead to anything from a loss of consciousness for a few seconds to coma.
Infantile/childhood amnesia: This refers to a person’s inability to recall events from early childhood. There are many theories on this, for example, Freud put it down to sexual repression. Others say it could be linked to language development or the fact that some areas of the brain linked to memory are not fully mature.
Hysterical amnesia (also known as fugue amnesia): This covers episodes of amnesia linked to psychological trauma. It is usually temporary and can be triggered by a traumatic event with which the mind finds it difficult to deal. Usually, the memory slowly or suddenly comes back a few days later, although memory of the trauma may remain incomplete.
The Most Comon Causes:
Amnesia is most commonly associated with either brain damage through injury or degeneration of brain cells in dementia. In both cases, brain cells are lost, and due to the complex network connecting cells within the human brain, they cannot be replaced. Most significant brain damage occurs when the brain is injured, such as in a car accident or as the result of a fall or blow. These traumas tend to cause a state of confusion, and some memory is often lost.
Infections that affect the brain, such as herpes or encephalitis may also cause memory loss. Severe alcohol or drug abuse, and malnutrition, act to deprive the brain of nutrients causing the death of brain cells. This can also cause significant loss of memories. Memory loss may sometimes result from stroke, if it affects the area of the brain concerned with memory functions.
Diagonises and Treatment:
The process of diagnosing the cause of amnesia involves conducting a series of tests. Anyone experiencing unexplained memory loss should consult their GP. If you suffer an accident that involves a blow to the brain, you should go to hospital immediately.
A mental health professional will want to take a careful personal history.
Causes of amnesia can include:
External trauma, such as a blow to the head
Internal trauma, such as stroke
Exposure to a toxic substances such as carbon monoxide
There are no laboratory tests that are necessary to confirm amnesia nor are there any physical conditions that must be met. However, it is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to amnesia. If there is any doubt about a medical problem, the mental health professional should refer to a physician, who will perform a complete physical examination and request any necessary laboratory tests.
Very sophisticated psychological testing, called neuropsychological testing, can be very helpful in determining the presence of amnesia. Sometimes the diagnosis of amnesia can be aided by the use of brain scans such as the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment varies according to the type of amnesia and the suspected cause.
Once brain cells die, they cannot be replaced. Depending on the cause of the amnesia, the brain may be able to recover many of its previous faculties, or may simply get worse. Those who have suffered brain loss as a result of an injury may see some improvement over time, as the brain attempts to heal itself. However, those whose amnesia is a symptom of a degenerative illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are unlikely to see an improvement.
Some forms of therapy have proven useful to amnesiacs in helping them to cope with their loss. Cognitive therapies in particular can help people regain skills that they have lost through amnesia.
Psychotherapy can be helpful for people whose amnesia is caused by emotional trauma. For instance, hypnosis may help some patients/clients recall forgotten memories.
Sometimes it is appropriate to administer a drug called Amytal (sodium amobarbital) to people suffering from amnesia. The medicine helps some people recall their lost memories. The use of hypnosis or Amytal has become controversial when it is used to help a patient recall repressed memories, especially repressed memories associated with sexual abuse. After recalling memories of abuse, some patients have filed suit against the alleged perpetrator of the sexual abuse. The validity of memories recalled under these treatment situations is being questioned and tested in the courts.
Hospitalization is usually not necessary to treat amnesia unless the person is at risk for harming himself/herself.
The course of the amnesia is variable depending upon the cause of the memory problem. By removing the toxic substance, for instance alcohol, the personâ€™s memory will recover within hours. However, if the brain has been severely injured, it may take weeks, months, or years for recovery to occur. In some instances, the amnesia never goes away.
Therefore, the prognosis depends upon the extent of the brain trauma. If an ingested substance caused the memory loss and the body can rid itself of the offending substance without causing permanent brain injury, the prognosis is quite good. However, once the brain is damaged it may be very slow to heal, and therefore, the prognosis can be quite poor.
Anyone suffering from or having any symptoms of amnesia should seek immediate medical attention.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.
- Amnesia Was Her Name (scienceblogs.com)
- Brain damage might actually create fake memories [Mad Neuroscience] (io9.com)
- That Old Amnesia Trick (slog.thestranger.com)
- 6 Things That Zap Your Memory (foxnews.com)
- Amnesia Leaves Woman In Real-Life Memento [Remember Me] (jezebel.com)
- Recovering Memory: Can a New Device Help Amnesia Patients? (time.com)
- Recovering Memory: Can a New Device Help Amnesia Patients? (time.com)
- 1-Minute Sideline Test Predicts Concussions (webmd.com)
- Brain Damage May Create False Memories (livescience.com)