Content

Introduction

The term amnesia refers to the loss or decrease of memory linked to memories concerning facts, information and experiences. Generally, it is not related to forgetting one's identity: people with amnesia (also called amnestic syndrome), in fact, contrary to what is often represented in many films, they usually know who they are even if they may have problems in learning new information and forming new memories.

Amnesia can be caused by many factors, such as:

  • head injuries
  • mental illness
  • epilepsy
  • intoxications, which damage areas of the brain important for memory processing

Unlike a temporary episode of memory loss (transient global amnesia), which resolves spontaneously in a short time, amnesia can be permanent.

There is no specific cure for amnesia, but techniques to improve memory and psychological support can help individuals and their families cope with the problem.

In medical language, three types of amnesia are distinguished:

  • lacunar amnesia, a form that affects only some groups of memories
  • retrograde amnesia, a type that prevents you from remembering facts and events that occurred before the event that caused the amnesia
  • anterograde amnesia, a form that causes the inability to remember events that occurred after the "event that triggered the amnesia

Symptoms

The two main characteristics of "amnesia are:

  • difficulty remembering past facts and events and previously familiar information (so-called retrograde amnesia)
  • difficulty in learning new information after the appearance of the episode of amnesia (so-called anterograde amnesia)

Most people with amnesia have problems with short-term memory, which means they are unable to retain new or recent information. It is therefore likely that the closest memories in time will be lost, while the more distant or deeply rooted ones can be spared. For example, they may remember childhood experiences or names and situations from a more or less distant past, but may not be able to name recently met people, remember what they ate for breakfast, or know what month. of the year they are living.

Isolated memory loss does not affect an individual's intelligence, general knowledge, awareness, attention, judgment, personality or identity. Typically, amnesiac sufferers understand written or spoken words and can learn new skills such as riding a bicycle or playing an instrument are also generally aware of having a memory disorder.

Amnesia is not linked to dementia. Although the latter often includes memory loss, it also involves other significant aspects, such as reasoning and learning skills (cognitive abilities), which lead to a decline in the activities of the everyday life.

A forgetful episode can also be a disorder related to mild cognitive impairment (Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI, also known as mild cognitive impairment minor neurocognitive disorder), larger than what should occur based on age but not as severe as in dementia.

Depending on the cause of the amnesia, other signs and disorders that may occur include:

  • false memories (confabulation), completely invented or made up of real memories but placed in inconsistent temporal situations
  • confusion or disorientation

Anyone who has unexplained memory loss or has experienced a head injury or experiences moments of confusion or disorientation should receive immediate medical attention.

A person with amnesia may not be able to understand where they are or have the readiness to seek medical attention.

Causes

Memory involves many parts of the brain and, therefore, any disease or injury that affects it could damage it.

Amnesia can result from damage to the brain structures that form the so-called limbic system, an area that controls emotions and memories. These structures include the thalamus, a portion that is located deep in the center of the brain, and the formations of thehippocampus located within the temporal lobes.

Amnesia caused by injury or brain damage is known as neurological amnesia. Possible causes are:

  • stroke
  • brain inflammation (encephalitis), resulting from a viral infection such as, for example, that generated by the herpes simplex virus; or, from an autoimmune reaction to cancer (paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis) or, again, from an autoimmune reaction not dependent on tumor diseases
  • lack of sufficient oxygen in the brain, for example due to a heart attack, breathing difficulties or carbon monoxide poisoning
  • continued alcohol abuse, due to thiamine deficiency (vitamin B1 - Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome)
  • tumors in areas of the brain that control memory
  • degenerative diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia
  • convulsions
  • some medications, such as benzodiazepines or other medicines that act as tranquilizers (sedatives)

Head injuries causing a concussion, for example due to a car or sports accident, can lead to confusion and problems remembering new information. This is particularly common in the early stages of convalescence. Mild damage to the head does not normally cause lasting amnesia, more severe ones can cause permanent amnesia.

Another type of amnesia, rare, is represented by "dissociative amnesia (psychogenic). It results from an emotional shock or from a trauma such as, for example, being subjected to violence. In this case, the person may lose personal memories and information about him but, usually, only for a short time.

Risk factors

Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of amnesia include:

  • brain surgery
  • head trauma
  • trauma
  • stroke
  • alcohol abuse
  • convulsions

Prevention

Since brain damage can be the main cause of amnesia, it is important to take steps and care to minimize the possibility that the following may occur:

  • avoid excessive use of alcohol
  • wear a helmet and seat belt, whether you ride a bicycle or drive a car
  • quickly cure any infection, so it doesn't have a chance to spread to the brain
  • see your doctor or emergency room immediatelyif you have disorders (symptoms) that suggest a stroke or a brain aneurysm: severe headache or numbness or paralysis on only one side of the body

live with

Amnesia, depending on the situation, can be of different severity and can significantly affect activities and the quality of daily life. It can cause problems at work, at school and in social contexts.

Some people with severe amnesia problems need ongoing assistance and, sometimes, to conduct their life in a specialized center.

Bibliography

Mayo Clinic. Amnesia (English)

NHS. Memory loss (amnesia) (English)

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