Amnesia is a condition that implies total or partial loss of memory. This loss of memory comes naturally with old age or may be associated with some mental disorders but there are also several different types of amnesia that may require medical attention and constitute an emergency as well. Some of the different types of amnesia are:
Retrograde Amnesia: In this type of amnesia, often caused by an injury or brain trauma, the patient is unable to remember any events that occurred before the amnesia set in. Anything that happens after the injury or trauma is remembered normally.
Anterograde Amnesia: Just like retrograde amnesia, this type of amnesia can also occur after any type of head injury or brain truama. Anterograde amnesia means that the patient is unable to retain any new information. Short-term memory disappears and things that have happened recently are forgotten. Events prior to the injury however are remembered clearly.
Transient Global Amnesia: This is a severe form of anterograde amnesia where in the patient loses all new memories. Part memories are vaguely or barely remembered. This is a rare form of amnesia and is generally found in older patients and those who have had chronic vascular problems.
Traumatic Amnesia: A hard blow to the head could bring on this type of amnesia. This can happen during an accident or even a sports injury. This trauma can cause a loss of consciousness or even a coma in some patients. Traumatic amnesia is generally temporary, and is often regarded as a symptom of the concussion. How long traumatic amnesia lasts normally depends on how severe the injury was.
Wernike - Korsakoff's Psychosis: Amnesia caused by this progressive psychosis is usually brought on by alcohol abuse, malnutrition, or thiamin deficiency. Patients suffering from Wernike-Korsakoff's psychosis also tend to develop other neurological problems such as numbness and loss of feeling in their extremities and poor co-ordination.
Hysterical Amnesia: Also known as Fugue amnesia this is a rare condition. This causes the patient to lose his/her memory including knowledge of his/her own identity. This type of amnesia is caused due to an inability to cope and may be triggered by a traumatic event. In most cases, memory will return over time. Studies show that the event that triggered off the amnesia is completely forgotten even after recovery.
Childhood Amnesia: Or infantile amnesia is associated with the development of language skills. People suffering from childhood amnesia have no memory of their early childhood. This may be attributed to the immature development of certain parts of the brain during childhood.
Other lesser types of amnesia include post-hypnotic amnesia (where a patient undergoes hypnosis but does not remember anything that happened during the hypnosis), source amnesia (information may be remembered, but with this type of amnesia the patient has no idea where he received the information from), prosopamnesia (an inability to remember faces. This types of amnesia can develop later on in life or the patient may be born with it), and blackout amnesia (caused by heavy drinking where the person cant remember anything that happened during his drinking binge).
The symptoms of amnesia will depend on what type of amnesia has developed. For example, with retrograde amnesia, past events are not remembered. With anterograde amnesia, the patient will not remember recent information and short-term memory is affected. Amnesia may be marked by a loss of memory as well as a loss of words and language.
In case the amnesia was brought upon by a head injury or trauma, the patient may complain of headaches, sensitivity to noise and a lack of focus. Keep in mind that memory loss with amnesia does not affect a persons personality, intelligence, the ability to judge, his awareness of his surroundings, or even his general knowledge. People with amnesia do not lose the ability to learn new skills and may even be aware that they have lost their memory and have amnesia. Memory recall and the ability to retain new information are the two areas that are the most affected with different types of amnesia.
Amnesia is a cognitive disorder but it does not imply dementia. With dementia, amnesia is just one of the symptoms that may develop over time. Dementia is also accompanied by a decline in the ability to function individually. Daily activities become a chore and this is rarely the case in amnesia. This is an important point to remember when identifying amnesia correctly. Some problems such as seizures, tremors, and uncoordinated movements may also point to amnesia. Some patients invent memories or indulge in false recollections of events from the past. Referred to as confabulation, this is another indication that amnesia may have set in. Partial or total loss of memory, a failure to recognize faces and / or places are all amnesia symptoms as well.
If a person has undergone any type of head injury or trauma, feels confused and disoriented and suffers unexplained memory loss, medical attention should be sought immediately. Since the patient does not remember things, it is recommended that other members of the family or caregivers are present at the meetings with the doctor. A physical exam will be conducted to test reflexes, balance, and sensory functions. The doctor will also check the patients long and short-term memory as well as judgment capabilities. An MRI, CT scan, and EEG may be necessary to determine the source of the brain injury or trauma.
Blood tests will reveal any vitamin or nutritional deficiency that may be causing the symptoms. Depending on these tests, the best method of treatment will be decided upon.
Since the brain controls all memory function, any injury or trauma to the brain can interfere with its proper functioning. Amnesia can result from any damage to the limbic system in the brain. It is the limbic system situated in the thalamus and hippocampal formations in the temporal lobes of the brain that are in charge of all memories and emotions. When amnesia is caused by an injury to these areas of the brain, it is referred to as organic or neurological amnesia. This type of amnesia can develop as a result of a stroke, encephalitis, and lack of oxygen to the brain, long-term alcohol abuse, degenerative cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimers, and brain tumors. Accidents that result from car crashes or other road accidents may cause head injuries that affect those areas of the brain that control memory. However, these rarely cause severe amnesia and in most cases, memory returns to normal after some time. There is a type of amnesia that is caused by a trigger event or emotional shock or trauma. Circulatory diseases that prevents proper blood flow to the brain cells can also cause amnesia.
Amnesia causes will determine the type of treatment required. Most treatments recommended by doctors include occupational therapy to relearn old skills and information. Memory training may also help in some cases as this provides the patient with tools to organize new information and improve short-term memory. There are no specific medications for amnesia currently available. Amnesia caused by Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome results from a thiamin deficiency. In this scenario, thiamin vitamin supplements may be prescribed. Since memory function in the brain is a result of very complex neurotransmitter processes, it is unlikely that there will ever be a single medication that will resolve the problem of memory loss.
In the absence of any definitive medical treatment for amnesia, certain natural amnesia treatments may be beneficial. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts have unique properties that promote brain functioning. A handful of almonds soaked in water overnight and peeled before eating is said to help strengthen brain function. Almond essential oil used in steam inhalations can also help treat weaknesses of the brain. Walnuts in combination with figs or raisins can help improve nerve health, with their high vitamin content, along with minerals like phosphorus and potassium necessary for nerve health. Eating one apple daily can improve memory and prevent mental irritability as well. Other fruits that are high in phosphorus such as grapes, oranges, and dates are all believed to help improve memory. Rosemary is an herb that has a remarkable effect on memory and forgetfulness. Rosemary tea or rosemary oil can prevent mental fatigue and forgetfulness. Sage tea is considered another amnesia cure.
Malnutrition may be one of the contributing factors in the development of amnesia and diet plays an important role in providing the essential nutrients for proper functioning of the brain and the circulatory system. Amnesia patients should avoid caffeine found in coffee and carbonated beverages, tea, alcohol, refined sugar, white flour and many other processed foods. Proper rest and stress relievers such as exercise and meditation can help as well.
Living with amnesia can be very difficult for both the patient and family and caregivers. Support groups are useful for providing a platform to discuss fears and worries connected with the condition with other patients and families experiencing the same problems. There are also national organizations and help lines available in case more information is required.