Amnesia is memory loss. Individuals with amnesia, also called amnestic syndrome, have difficulty remembering other people, places, events and experiences in their life. It is rare, however, for a person with amnesia to forget who they are. There are two main types of amnesia: anterograde and retrograde. Anterograde, which is the more common form of amnesia, refers to difficulty learning new information (forming new memories). Retrograde refers to difficulty remembering past events (recalling old memories). Both anterograde and retrograde amnesia can be permanent. A third type of amnesia, transient global, is a temporary form and is discussed in more detail in a separate entry (please also see: transient global amnesia). Symptoms of amnesia include a pattern of forgetfulness, false memories (either made up or misplaced in time), and confusion.
Factors that can increase the risk of, or even cause amnesia include stroke, a lack of oxygen to brain (often caused by a heart attack), brain inflammation, seizures, brain tumors, and degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alcohol abuse and certain medications also increase the risk of amnesia.
To diagnose amnesia, doctors may first rule out other causes of memory loss such as dementia and depression. They will then collect a medical history, perform physical and cognitive exams, and often will order an MRI or CT of the brain to look for structural abnormalities that may be causing the amnesia. Treatments include occupational therapy to learn techniques for better memory formation as well as technology to help with day-to-day tasks. Individuals with severe amnesia often need supervision. Medication is not available for most types of amnesia. Avoiding behaviors linked to risk factors, such as alcoholism, will lower the risk for amnesia. Contact your doctor to discuss the most current treatment options available.