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Amnesia

Overview

Amnesia is memory loss caused by a traumatic event, substance abuse, illness or other events. Depending on the type of amnesia, the memory loss can cause you to forget events in the past or be unable to make new memories.

  • Types

    • Anterograde amnesia is the inability to make new memories
    • Psychogenic amnesia, also known as functional amnesia, is memory function problems that can’t be attributed to structural brain damage or a neurobiological cause.
    • Retrograde amnesia is the inability to access memories or information. Retrograde amnesia is often the result of an injury or disease.
    • Transient global amnesia is temporary and sudden memory loss that is unrelated to other neurological issues, such as stroke or epilepsy.
  • Symptoms

    • Frequent confusion
    • Inability to recognize people and places
    • Memory loss
    • No memory of the amnesia event once it is over
  • Prevention

    Amnesia typically isn’t preventable, because it is almost always associated with an unavoidable event, disease or illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, hysteria or emotional shock, seizures, or a stroke.

    However, you can reduce the preventable risks of amnesia with these steps:

    • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and the use of illicit drugs, as both have been linked to amnesia.
    • If you have an infection, treat it promptly so the brain isn’t affected.
    • If you have stroke symptoms, such as weakness or numbness on one side of the body, facial paralysis, inability to speak clearly or remember words, immediately seek emergency medical treatment.
    • Use proper safety equipment, including seatbelts, hard hats and helmets, to reduce the risk of a brain injury if an accident occurs.
  • Risk Factors

    • Alcohol abuse
    • Anything that can damage brain structures, including surgery or head injuries
    • Seizure
    • Stroke
    • Taking certain medications, such as sedatives
  • Diagnosis

    • Medical history and symptom review. A review of your medical history and symptoms helps the physician determine what may have caused the episode of amnesia.
    • Memory tests. If amnesia is suspected, a variety of cognitive tests will be performed to test short- and long-term memory. Additional tests may be performed to test other brain functions and determine what areas of the brain may have been affected.
    • Physical exam. Reflexes, balance and sensory function are usually evaluated.
    • Imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs and CT scans are often needed to provide the physician with a better look at the brain structures.
  • Treatment

    • If the amnesia is the result of a medication, your physician may recommend an alternative.
    • Occupational or physical therapy may be recommended to help you relearn lost skills or memories.
    • Assistive devices, particularly technology or notebooks, can help improve daily tasks if you have amnesia.
  • Follow-up Care

    Follow-up care depends on the cause of the amnesia.

    • If there are no medical issues causing the amnesia, follow-up care will include visits with your physician to monitor the amnesia and its status.
    • Follow-up care might include ongoing occupational or physical therapy to help you adapt to living with memory problems.
    • Ongoing medical care and treatment will continue for any diseases that cause the amnesia.