Amnesia is the inability to recall past events or retain new information. It usually occurs as a result of physical or psychological trauma.
Definitions of Related Terms
- Alzheimer’s disease is a mental disorder characterized by amnesia and the decline of cognitive functions. It casues significant distress or impaired functioning in daily activities.
- Anterograde amnesia is the loss of memory that followed the causal event.
- Cognitive pertains to mental abilities and processes.
- Dementia is a loss of memory and mental ability that is sufficiently severe to interfere with normal activities of daily living.
- Dissociative amnesia is a mental disorder that involves amnesia and that causes significant distress or impaired functionin.
- Retrograde amnesia is the loss of memory that precedes the causal event.
- Transient global amnesia is a form of anterograde amnesia that is intense and short term and presents with no other symptoms.
- Traumatic brain injury is an insult or injury to the brain from an external forces. In DSM-5, this disorder is known as Neurocognitive Disorder Due to Traumatic Brain Injury.
Clinical Presentation of Amnesia
Amnesia is the inability to recall important personal information that is different from ordinary forgetting (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Individuals suffering from amnesia are likely to present firstly for the event that caused the amnesia. Consequently, they are likely to be encountered in a medical or crisis setting. In addition, amnesia can occur in other neurological or medical concerns and is not likely to be the primary diagnosis.
Some individuals may exhibit a total inability to recall events leading up to the precipitating event. Others might exhibit profound forgetfulness or seem as if they are very confused. Amnesia may last hours, weeks, years, or, in rare cases, a lifetime.
There are three kinds of amnesia: anterograde amnesia, retrograde amnesia, and transient global amnesia. Typically, retrograde amnesia does not involve a total loss of memory but is variable in regard to the period of memory loss preceding its onset.
Transient global amnesia is often associated with physical or emotional stress. The isolated memory loss of amnesia does not affect an individual’s awareness, general knowledge, intelligence, judgment, or personality.
Those experiencing amnesia usually understand written and spoken words and can learn skills. They also understand that they have experienced some memory loss. Dissociative amnesia also involves amnesia. So too does dementia. However, in addition to the memory loss are other cognitive problems. Alzheimer’s diseaseOpens in new window is common form of dementiaOpens in new window.
Amnesia can be caused by damage to certain areas of the brain or through psychological means. The physical cause of amnesia is often traumatic brain injury that may result from car accidents, falls, or sport injuries. With psychological amnesia, the impairment is often attributed to assault, death of a loved one, or other disturbing event. Amnesia can also be caused by other medical conditions.
Treatment begins with a thorough assessment to assess memory loss and identify likely causes. There is no direct treatment for amesia. The primary goal of treatmet is to resolve the underlying cause. That is to say if the amnesia is caused by traumatic brain injury, then it is the injury that is treated.
Alternatively, if the cause is psychological trauma, then the psychological intervention will be aimed at helping the individual resolve the psychological issue directly in the hope that the amnesia will resolve as a consequence. A secondary goal is to increase the individual’s capacity to better cope, enhance memory, and provide psychological support for these individuals and their families.