What is Amnesia? I Forget…

 

By Adrian Sparrow
NeuLine Health

 

We all experience a bit of forgetfulness- forgetting to pick up eggs at the grocery store, where you parked the car, or the exact date of your cousin’s birthday party is normal. Amnesia, however, refers to a large-scale loss of memory that impacts daily life caused by illness, brain injury, or psychological trauma.

When you think about amnesia, you might imagine a character in a movie who suddenly forgets every task they’ve ever learned or a character from a book who can’t remember who he is anymore and has a significant personality change. Despite being (often inaccurately) portrayed in movies, tv shows, and books, amnesia is a rare condition that affects a person’s ability to recall memories. 

Types: 

-Retrograde amnesia

Somebody with retrograde amnesia loses existing memories. Recently formed memories are usually affected first, while older memories (such as childhood) are affected more slowly. Conditions like dementia can cause gradual retrograde amnesia. 

-Anterograde amnesia

Someone with anterograde amnesia can’t form new memories. They can still recall memories from before their amnesia, but their short-term memory is impaired. This type of amnesia is more common than retrograde amnesia.

-Transient global amnesia (TGA) 

TGA is a temporary syndrome that results in losing all memory. Middle-aged and older adults are most at risk for TGA. Memory loss occurs suddenly and only lasts up to 24 hours. Once TGA resolves, it rarely recurs. Experts aren’t sure what causes this type of amnesia. 

-Traumatic amnesia

Memory loss due to physical injury may occur after a hard blow to the head, such as a car accident. This kind of amnesia is usually temporary but depends on the severity of the injury. Amnesia is one of the symptoms of a concussion. 

-Dissociative Amnesia

This kind of amnesia is psychological, caused by emotional trauma or stress without physical injury to the brain. Dissociative identity disorder, PTSD, and acute stress disorder can present with amnesia. Any intolerable situation that causes severe psychological stress can lead to some level of amnesia. Internal conflict from these situations often disrupts personal historical memories rather than impacting new memories. 

 

Causes 

Any disease or trauma to the brain can cause memory loss depending on where the damage occurs. Several parts of the brain are responsible for different memory processes that occur simultaneously. Other causes can include:

-Stroke

-Oxygen deprivation

-Brain tumor

-Brain inflammation due to infection or autoimmune reaction

-Seizures

-Some medications, including those for insomnia and anesthesia

-Alcohol abuse

-Head injury

-Psychological trauma

 

Diagnosis

The doctor will need to rule out other kinds of memory loss like Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. They will take a detailed medical history, which may require a family member to be present if the patient can’t remember. The doctor may order tests such as an MRI, CAT scan, or EEG to rule out brain injury or abnormalities. A blood test can determine whether there’s an infection or nutritional deficiency. 

Treatments

Usually, amnesia will resolve on its own as your brain heals. Your doctor can recommend the best treatment for retrieving lost memories, including psychotherapy or hypnosis. Family support is also crucial to expose the person to familiar images, music, smells, etc., that could lead to restored memories. 

There are currently no medications that can treat amnesia. However, it’s crucial to determine and treat the underlying cause of unexplained memory loss. Amnesia due to head trauma, for instance, may be resolved once the injury has been treated. 

 

Prevention

You can reduce your risk of amnesia by lowering your risk for brain trauma and disease. Always wear seatbelts in vehicles, wear a helmet when bicycling, and choose sturdy shoes to keep from falling. Healthy lifestyle choices like a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems and diseases like heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

 

Resources:

 

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