Amnesia is an unusual loss of memory caused by damage to the brain, disease, or psychological trauma. Patients with amnesia often cannot remember information from the past, although they generally do not have a loss of self-identity as is commonly believed. There are several different ways of acquiring amnesia, which can be permanent and may cause difficulty in learning new information and forming new memories. While there is no treatment for amnesia, there are therapies that can help train the memory and improve quality of life.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Amnesia is different from aging, dementia, and other degenerative diseases that involve memory loss. Unless it occurs with other conditions, amnesia does not affect cognitive ability or intelligence and usually does not result in a loss of everyday skills, such as driving a car. Amnesia can be temporary (transient) or permanent, depending on the type and cause.

There are many different types of amnesia, but the most common are anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia refers to the inability to form new memories after the onset of amnesia, and retrograde refers to the inability to remember information from before the onset of amnesia. Another form of amnesia, called dissociative or psychogenic amnesia, may prevent the recall of emotionally traumatic events. In addition to memory loss, amnesia patients may also experience false memories (confabulation), uncoordinated movements, and confusion.

Diagnosing amnesia involves ruling out other possible causes of memory loss and is dependent upon a detailed medical history. It is important to know when the memory loss began and how quickly it progressed, any recent injuries, drug or alcohol use, and any other illnesses the patient has had in the past. Neurological tests and cognitive tests can help to determine the extent of the memory loss, and diagnostic imaging tests such as MRIs, CT scans, and electroencephalograms (EEGs) may be used to look for physical damage to the brain. Blood tests can also rule out infections and nutritional deficiencies that affect memory. Continue reading for Causes, Prevention, and Treatment Information . . .

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