What is amnesia?
Amnesia refers to a large scale loss of memories that should not have been forgotten which includes important milestones in life, memorable events, key people in their lives, etc.
Some patients with amnesia have difficulty memorizing new information and forming new memories, while others can’t recall past experiences or facts. People with amnesia generally retain the knowledge of their own identity and motor skills. Some of the common types of amnesia are anterograde amnesia, retrograde amnesia, transient global amnesia, etc.
Common amnesia symptoms include:
- The ability to learn new information is impaired in anterograde amnesia.
- Retrograde amnesia and dissociative amnesia symptoms include an inability to remember past events and previously familiar information.
- False memories may be either completely invented or consist of real memories misplaced in time.
- Uncoordinated movements and tremors indicate neurological problems.
- Confusion or disorientation.
- Problems with short-term memory, partial or total loss of memory
- Inability to recognize faces or locations.
Who is at risk?
Amnesia risk factors include:
- Having a brain injury
- An underlying medical condition
- Have experienced severe psychological stress or emotional shock
Any disease or injury affecting the brain can interfere with the memory function of the brain as the memory function engages different parts of the brain at the same time. Amnesia causes can include:
- Medical Amnesia: It refers to amnesia that can result from a brain injury or damage. The possible causes are:
- Stroke, oxygen deprivation, resulting, for example, from a heart attack, respiratory distress, or carbon monoxide poisoning
- Encephalitis, or brain inflammation, due to an infection or an autoimmune reaction
- Some medications, such as sleeping drugs
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding in the area between the skull and the brain
- A brain tumor affecting a part of the brain involved in memory
- Some seizure disorders
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)), or electroshock therapy may lead to temporary memory loss
- Head injuries
- Psychological Amnesia: It refers to amnesia that is caused by an emotional shock, such as a violent crime, sexual or other abuse, military combat, or any intolerable life situation that causes severe psychological stress.
How is amnesia diagnosed?
Amnesia diagnosis will require ruling out possible causes of memory loss including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, or brain tumor.
The process of diagnosis may include:
- Taking medical details: The doctor may begin by taking a detailed medical history and details of the symptoms of the patient. Family members or caregivers may be able to help.
- Memory assessment: The doctor may go on to access the patient’s judgement, short-term memory, and long-term memory to determine the extent of memory loss.
- Tests and examination: The doctor may order for amnesia test such as an MRI or CT Scan, or an EEG, to check for any physical damage or brain abnormality. Additionally, blood tests may help check for infections or nutritional deficiencies.
How is amnesia treated?
In many cases, amnesia resolves itself without treatment. However, if an underlying physical or mental disorder is present, treatment may be necessary.
Psychotherapy can help some patients in amnesia cure as dissociative amnesia treatment or anterograde amnesia treatment. Hypnosis can effectively help in recalling memories that have been forgotten. Psychotherapy for amnesia treatment may involve:
- Working with an occupational therapist to acquire new information to replace lost memories, or to use existing memories as a basis for acquiring new information.
- Learning strategies for organizing information, to make it easier to store.
- Using digital aids, such as smartphones, to help with daily tasks and remind patients about important events, when to take medications, and so on. A contact list with photographs of faces may be helpful.
Targeted nutrition may help with Malnutrition or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome which involves memory loss due to a thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency. Whole grain cereals, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, lean pork, and yeast are rich sources of thiamin.
How can amnesia be prevented?
The following healthy habits can lower your risk of blackouts, head injuries, dementia, stroke, and other potential causes of memory loss:
- Avoid heavy use of alcohol or drugs.
- Use protective headgear when you’re playing sports that put you at high risk of concussion.
- Stay mentally active throughout your life. For instance, take classes, explore new places, read new books, and play mentally challenging games.
- Stay physically active throughout your life.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins.
- Stay hydrated.
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