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Amnesia – Types, Causes and Symptoms

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Amnesia is a type of memory loss that occurs when people tend to forget things or people that they usually won’t have a problem remembering. Amnesia could be temporary or permanent although what is mostly seen is the temporary one.

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It is usually associated with stress, frustration and depression. Most of the patients who suffer from amnesia tends to feel severe frustration due to their inability for them to retrieve their important memories.

While some people who suffer from amnesia have issues and difficulties in forming memories while others have issues recalling past experiences and accessing stored in memories. People suffering from amnesia usually can retain the knowledge of their own identities and also retain their motor skills.

Types of amnesia

There are 4 different types and levels of amnesia and they include;

Retrograde amnesia

Retrograde amnesia is the kind of amnesia that affects the memories made or formed before the initial beginning of the amnesia. This means that all the memories that were made before the amnesia hits will be affected.

Someone who have suffered or have developed retrograde amnesia most especially after a trauma that affected the brain causing brain injury maybe unable to recollect or recover memories that happened over the years or decade or even prior to the trauma that caused it.

Retrograde amnesia is caused when there is a damage to the memory storage area of the brain which are found in various areas of the brain. This damage may be as a result of a traumatic event or incident, injury, illness, severe stroke or severe seizure disorders.

It can also be caused as a result of a degenerative brain disease which has already began to affect the memory centres of the brain. Retrograde amnesia can be either progressive, temporary or permanent as the case may be.

There are 2 different classes of retrograde amnesia namely (i) temporary retrograde amnesia and (ii) focal retrograde amnesia. People suffering from temporary retrograde amnesia won’t be able to recollect their most recent memories I.e memories made within the last few years just before they start experiencing amnesia while their oldest or long-term memories are spared and stored.

A person who has temporary retrograde amnesia won’t be able to make new memories and even if the person tries, he or she will tend to lose those memories. On the other hand, for People who experience focal Retrograde amnesia, the patient will be able to form New memories but will have no recollection of old memories either short term or long term memories.

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Anterograde Amnesia

A person having Anterograde Amnesia cannot form New memories after the trauma. However, they are able to retain the old memories both long term and short term.

It can either be temporary which will portray as a black out in memories maybe after having too much to drink or it can be permanent. It usually happens when there is a severe damage to the hippocampus area of the brain.

Transient Global Amnesia

Transient Global Amnesia also known as TGA is a very rare form of amnesia which is usually not understood by most people. A person who suffers from TGA is a little bit different from patients that suffer from other forms of amnesia.

Patients suffering from TGA will experience severe agitation and/or confusion which usually comes and goes repeatedly over the course of the attack and it may sometimes last for several hours. One may experience memory loss hours before the attack and probably no lasting memory associated with this experience.

This disease has been believed by scientists to be caused by temporary shortage of blood supply to the brain or a seizure like activity which affects the nerves of the brain. Mostly, people in the older age group tend to experience this sort of amnesia.

Childhood or infantile Amnesia

This occur when the person cannot remember his/her childhood memories. Memories from the first five to seven years of life will be quite difficult for the person to recollect.

Causes of Amnesia

There are so many causes of amnesia and there are so many ways it can present itself. Amnesia can also occur as a result of an already underlying diseased condition. The different causes of amnesia includes:

1. Dementia

Most of the time, the location of a memory in your brain depends on how long the memory has been there and as a result of it, some certain memories tends to fade away over time.

But then again, you may not permanently lose all those memories. For you to completely lose all those memories permanently, one must have a wide spread brain deterioration all across the persons brain.

People with dementia usually experience retrograde amnesia at first. They always tend to lose memories which were formed not quite long ago (short term memories) first before then losing the long term memories.

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2. Anoxia

When there is complete inadequate supply of oxygen or complete depletion of oxygen to the brain, it can lead to memory loss and brain damage.

This kind of memory loss could be temporary if there is no associated brain damage. But if there is an associated brain damage, then the person would be experiencing permanent memory loss.

3. Severe damage to the hippocampus

Both the hippocampus and the limbic system which are areas in the brain control memory retention in the brain of a person. The activities of the hippocampus includes, formation of memories, organization of memories and retrieval of these memories when they are needed for use.

The brain cells in the hippocampus are usually the most fragile and energy-consuming cells found in the brain and they are usually easily destroyed or damaged when there is inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain (anoxia) or there is an influx of toxins to the brain cells.

Whenever there are severe damages to the cells of the hippocampus, there will be the inability of the brain to form new memories. Since the hippocampus is present on both halves of the brain, one part of the hippocampus can be damaged. However if it’s the both parts of the hippocampus is damaged, the person will end up suffering anterograde Amnesia.

4. Head trauma

Head trauma caused by a severe accident or a severe fall can cause amnesia. Likewise stroke, tumours either in the hippocampus or in the limbic system, or toxins can lead to a damage to the brain which can lead to permanent memory damage.

Head trauma or concussions can cause severe disruptions in the memories and also in keeping track of days, weeks, or hours before or after the injury has occurred.

5. Increased intake of alcohol

Too much of alcohol or stress can cause black out of memories which is a form of anterograde Amnesia. Alcoholism can cause either short term amnesia or long term amnesia.

Long term alcoholism can lead to a syndrome known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. People suffering from this syndrome may begin to experience loss of short term memories and they may not even know about it which often gets to agitate them or frustrate them

6. Stress

Stress can also lead to dissociative Amnesia. This type of amnesia occurs when the body is given an bad news and due to the effect of the traumatic news, his/her mind will begin to experience rejection overwhelmingly increased desires or information that one may not be so well equipped to handle.

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There are several symptoms of amnesia but the major symptoms to watch out for includes memory loss,inability to form or make new thoughts, difficulty in reading facts, ideas, places and even sometime people.

Amnesia can be treated if detected early can be treated once the doctor focuses on the underlying condition. For example, amnesia caused by severe intake of alcohol can be treated using detoxification. Once them alcohol gets out of the system, amnesia will subside and memories can return.

Likewise for amnesia caused by a trauma most especially head trauma. Once the injury is treated, then the amnesia will gradually begin to subside. Although, this may depend on the severity of the trauma caused to the head.

If it is a mild trauma or a blunt injury caused to the head, then the amnesia will recede but if not, there is a possible for the amnesia to become permanent. However, if there will be improvement in memory gain, then improvements usually occur within 6 months.

Amnesia caused by dementia is often non-treatable and incurable. The only course of action to take for this type of dementia is by taking prescribed drugs which would help improve learning and memory retention. Amnesia can also be prevented by doing the following:

  1. Avoid heavy alcohol intake and also the use of unprescribed drugs.
  2. If you are a sportsman or woman, while on the field, use a protective headgear to protect your head while playing. This will help avoid concussion.
  3. Even if you are out of school, try to stay mentally active. Do new things that will challenge your brain and make your brain cells go to work. This way, you are preventing your brain cells from lying dormant.
  4. Try to stay physically fit throughout your lifetime. Engage in sports, take a walk, go dancing etc. Doing this will improve your quality of life.
  5. Always take a healthy diet. Take fruits and vegetables. This will help improve your nutrient level and help your brain cells stay healthy.
  6. Never forget to take water. Always stay hydrated as this will help increase the blood flow and circulation to your brain.
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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker
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