by Kimberly Allen, RN
Amnesia refers to memory loss. Although many of us can be forgetful it is not the same as amnesia. Amnesia is more of a large scale memory loss of things that should not have been forgotten. Though amnesia has long been used as a plot line on TV and in the movies it rarely resembles the amnesia that occurs in real life. In reality most people with amnesia are usually clear headed and have a sense of self, however they have difficulty not only recalling past experiences and information they also tend to have severe difficulty learning new information as well as creating new memories. Amnesia can occur to anyone at anytime though there are certain factors that can increase your risk including alcohol abuse, seizures and stroke as well as any form of head trauma or injury as well as brain surgery.
There are many parts of the brain that are involved in memory functions. the process of creating memory involves 3 steps, registration, which is the process of taking in new information. Then there’s encoding which is creating associations and time stamps as well as other processes needed for retrieval and lastly retrieval itself. A malfunction in any of these steps can lead to amnesia.
Amnesia results from either organic or functional causes. Organic causes includes stroke, encephalitis that is due to viral infection or an autoimmune response to cancer. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for any reason it can produce amnesia. a history of long term alcohol abuse as well as certain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can also lead to certain types of amnesia. If tumors develop in the limbic regions of the brain which are responsible for controlling your memories and emotions they can lead to the development of amnesia. Seizures and electroconvulsive, also know as electric shock therapy as well as certain medications like benzodiazepins can also lead to amnesia. Functional causes of amnesia are the psychological factors like acute emotional shock or trauma that triggers your brains defense mechanisms to block any memories related to the traumatic event.
There are several different types of amnesia;
Anterograde amnesia is when you are unable to recall new information. All the information from recent events that should be stored in your short term memory vanish. This type of amnesia is usually caused by brain trauma like a blow to the head. A person with this type of amnesia is able to recall memories obtained before the injury.
Retrograde amnesia is basically the opposite of anterograde amnesia. In this type you are unable to recall any memories from before the trauma but are able to recall any new events that happen after the trauma.
Transient global amnesia is when all all memory is temporarily lost. People with this type of amnesia have a difficult time creating new memories. This type of amnesia is very rare and usually occurs in older people with vascular disease.
Traumatic amnesia occurs when a person receives a severe blow to the head like from being in a car accident. Many people that develop this type either briefly lose consciousness or go into a coma. Many sports scientists believe this type of amnesia is an indicator of a concussion. Most of the time this type of amnesia is temporary, however, the length of time this type lasts tends to depend on the severity of the injury and how rapidly the brain is able to recover.
Wernike-Korsakoff’s psychosis is the type of amnesia that occurs with prolonged alcohol abuse. People with this type of amnesia also frequently have other problems associated with thiamine deficiency.
Hysterical amnesia is a very rare phenomenon in which a person has no memory of not only their past but who they are. This type of amnesia tends to be triggered by something the persons mind is unable to cope with.
Treatment for amnesia depends on the type of amnesia a person has and focuses on using different strategies and techniques to assists the person in learning new information.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.