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What is Amnesia - Types of Amnesia & Its Treatment

What is Amnesia - Types of Amnesia & Its Treatment

Max Lab

Sep 21, 2022

General forgetfulness or mild memory loss that comes with age is quite normal for humans but not really categorised as amnesia. Unlike popular movies, where people wake up questioning who they are, in amnesia or amnestic syndrome, a person can remember their identity and motor skills but is unable to either form new memories, recall things from their past, or sometimes, both.

What is the Meaning of Amnesia?

The term comes from the Greek word amnēsía, which means ‘forgetfulness’. Amnesia, also known as the amnestic syndrome, is a dramatic form of forgetfulness that refers to a large-scale loss of memories.

What is the Amnesia Disease?

Amnesia is a disease that is characterised by the loss of memories, like facts, personal milestones, important information, etc. It is a condition under which a patient has trouble recalling memories or making new ones. The causes of amnesia can be physical, like trauma, injury, or infections that impair brain function, or the causes of amnesia may be psychological like a traumatic experience.

Based on what the cause is, amnesia can be temporary, where one regains their memories or the ability to form new memories, or it may be permanent.

Types of Amnesia

  • Retrograde Amnesia

Retrograde amnesia is when one loses the ability to recall events that happened before the event that triggered the amnesia. It usually affects memories made recently and not those from years ago. What is the extent of retrograde amnesia and how many memories are affected will depend on the amount of damage the brain has suffered.

Causes: Retrograde amnesia can be a result of damage caused to different parts of the brain, apart from the hippocampus. Cerebrovascular accidents, stroke, head trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.  can also lead to retrograde amnesia

  • Anterograde Amnesia

Anterograde amnesia is defined by what a person is unable to commit to their long-term memory. In this condition, individuals have trouble forming new memories after the event that caused amnesia.

Causes: Anterograde amnesia can be caused by damage to the hippocampus, or by trauma, stroke, surgery, alcoholism, encephalitis, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, brain anoxia, etc.

  • Post-Traumatic Amnesia

These are types of amnesia that occur when an individual experiences a significant head injury. They may feel disoriented most of the time or may face difficulty in remembering things that happened a few minutes ago.

  • Transient Global Amnesia

Transient Global Amnesia, or TSG, is a type of amnesia when someone suffers from temporary memory loss of all events and faces difficulties in forming new memories. TSG is very rare and more likely to occur in older people with vascular diseases.

  • Dissociative Amnesia

People with dissociative amnesia struggle to remember information about themselves, stints of which usually come on suddenly. Childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, or issues relating to personal identity and past experiences are some of the most common causes of dissociative amnesia. There are also various types of dissociative amnesia, including localised amnesia, selective amnesia, continuous amnesia, systemised amnesia, generalised amnesia, and dissociative fugue. The treatment for dissociative amnesia depends on the extent of memory loss and may include supportive therapy, hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, and more.

  • Drug-Induced Amnesia

Drug-induced amnesia is short-term memory loss that is triggered by using drugs. In this condition, an individual cannot recall memories of the time during which they were under the influence of the amnestic drug.

  • Infantile Amnesia

Also known as childhood amnesia, this term is used to define the way adults are unable to remember early childhood memories. This may be because a child’s brain has not developed completely, which makes them unable to consolidate memories.

  • Korsakoff’s Syndrome Psychosis

For people with a long-term history of alcohol consumption and thiamine deficiency, Korsakoff’s Syndrome Psychosis is common. Recalling short-term memory might not be an issue under this condition but recalling past events may pose great difficulty.

  • Selective Amnesia

In this type of amnesia, people forget certain parts of their memory or certain events that have happened in their life. Selective amnesia is often used for treatment in psychiatry which is induced by techniques like electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.

  • Epileptic Amnesia

This type of amnesia is experienced by people with temporal lobe epilepsy. The condition is also seen in people with epilepsy as a response to anti-epilepsy drugs.

What is the Cause of Amnesia?

There are several parts of the brain that are involved in memory function. Injury or disease that causes damage to the brand or affects it can also be what causes amnesia. These include:

  • Inflammation of the brain or encephalitis which could have been caused by a viral infection or an autoimmune reaction.
  • Stroke
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain, because of respiratory distress or a heart attack.
  • Brain tumour
  • Long-term abuse of alcohol
  • Certain medication, like tranquilisers and benzodiazepines
  • Seizures
  • Severe head injuries
  • Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia
  • Emotional trauma

Amnesia Diagnosis

Diagnosing amnesia generally begins with the doctor asking about the memory loss and the symptoms being noticed. A caregiver or family member should also be present to help with the evaluation as the patient themselves may not remember or be aware of all situations. Diagnoses may also involve cognitive and diagnostic tests for amnesia, as well as blood tests for nutritional efficiencies or to detect infections.

Treatment for Amnesia

Different types of amnesia have different treatment courses to be followed and even then may vary based on the degree to which a person is suffering from the issue. In many cases, amnesia and memory loss resolve themselves within some time without any treatment. However, if an underlying physical or mental disorder is persistent in an individual, treatment for the condition becomes a must. Here are some of the therapies that an individual might receive based on the type of amnesia they are suffering from:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Meditation
  • Art or Music Therapy
  • Clinical Hypnosis
  • Other types of Psychotherapy

Amnesia is a neurological condition that requires treatment for the underlying cause. Since most types of amnesia result from emotional or physical trauma immediate medical attention can go a long way in dealing with the issue.


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