Amnesia is a type of memory loss. People with memory loss (aka amnestic syndrome) have trouble learning new information and building memory. However, these people contrary to popular belief; they are aware of who they are and have no problem with identity. The disease usually does not affect people’s muscular skills. Mild memory loss with aging can be considered normal, but memory loss is serious in amnesia.
What are the types and symptoms of memory loss?
The most important symptom of amnesia is memory loss. Patients; has difficulty remembering situations, events, places, small details. There is no big change in muscle skills. The patient can continue to walk and speak fluently. There are different subtypes of amnesia, and each has its own specific symptoms.
- Retrograde amnesia: People with this disease begin to lose the memory created before the onset of amnesia. Short-term memory created just before the disease starts is more affected by this loss. Patients have difficulty remembering names, people, faces, places, general information. The long-term memory created in childhood and youth is slowly affected by the disease. While people cannot remember recent events, they can remember a childhood memory. Skills such as cycling, driving, playing the piano are unforgettable. It has subtypes such as focal retrograde amnesia, dissociative (psychogenic) amnesia.
- Anterograde amnesia: The person cannot create a new memory in forward-looking amnesia. There is a problem with generating new knowledge. A person cannot remember the last meal they ate, someone they just met, a new phone number, or a change in their daily routine. This situation can be temporary or permanent. For example, the inability to remember anything after excessive alcohol consumption causes temporary forward-looking amnesia. In anterograde amnesia, the area of the brain called the hippocampus is affected. The hippocampus is a structure that plays an important role in building memory.
- Transient global amnesia: It is memory loss that starts suddenly, comes with attacks, and lasts for a short time. During the attack, the last events begin to disappear from the mind. The person cannot remember where he is or where he came from. He may also not understand what happened during the attack. As he forgets the answers given, he asks the same questions over and over again. However, the patient does not forget who he is and remembers that he knows well. Attacks begin to fade within hours. During the healing process, the person gradually starts to remember the events and situations during the attack.
- Infancy / Childhood amnesia: Most people cannot remember the first 5 years of their life. This general condition is called infantile / childhood amnesia.
What causes amnesia?
- Dementia: The location of memory in the brain is thought to vary with age. There must be widespread deterioration of brain tissue in order to lose preformed memory. This deterioration can be caused by dementia types such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia patients experience newly created memory loss instead of previously created memory.
- Damage to the hippocampus: The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. They have complex and difficult tasks such as building memory, organizing memory, and recalling information when necessary. The cells in this part, which must be constantly active, need a lot of energy. The cells cannot fulfill their duties in situations such as the lack of nutrients and oxygen required for the cells and the presence of toxic (harmful) substances that prevent the cells from functioning properly. In this case, it causes problems in memory formation. Disruption of the hippocampus region in both the right and left lobes of the brain leads to anterograde amnesia.
- Head trauma: Head trauma, which can affect brain functions such as stroke, tumor, and infection, can lead to amnesia. Post-traumatic amnesia may be permanent.
- Alcohol consumption: Short-term alcohol consumption causes temporary fainting in people. This is an example of temporary anterograde amnesia. Prolonged alcohol use leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. With alcoholism in patients with this syndrome caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency; Symptoms such as memory loss, visual disturbances, orientation problems can be seen.
- Trauma and stress: Serious trauma and stress can lead to dissociative amnesia. People in this amnesia; they reject thoughts and events that they fear to cope with and cannot overcome. He doesn’t want to remember. Some patients may experience behaviors such as walking around and leaving their environment without informing their relatives.
- Electroconvulsive therapy: Anterograde or retrograde amnesia can be seen in people who use this method as a treatment for depression.
How is the diagnosis and treatment of amnesia?
In the presence of amnesia symptoms, it is useful to consult a neurologist immediately. When applying to a doctor; Questions such as when the symptoms occur, whether there are factors that trigger their formation, whether they are seen in seizures or continuously, whether they worsen or remain the same over time, whether there are events that may have recently caused head trauma, and the presence of additional diseases should be answered. The answers to these questions contain clues that can be very helpful in diagnosing.
In the diagnosis of the disease; Tests that help evaluate the cognitive state of the patient such as history, neurological examination, physical examination, thinking, reasoning, long and short-term memory recall should be performed. Additionally, imaging techniques such as MRI and CT can be used to show brain abnormalities that can cause disease. In addition, conditions such as infection, vitamin/mineral deficiencies that may cause amnesia are also investigated by blood tests. EEG (electroencephalography) can be taken to observe brain activity. EEG is used to investigate whether there are seizure-like conditions in the brain.
There is no cure for amnesia. When the underlying cause of the disease is found, treatments for this cause are applied. For example, alcohol withdrawal and thiamine deficiency should be corrected in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. In cases where the underlying cause is an infection, the infection is treated first and the progression of the disease is tried to be stopped. Amnesia caused by dementia is usually untreated, but some medications that support learning and recall may still be prescribed.
Occupational therapy can be considered as an option in cases where memory loss is permanent. With the help of an occupational therapist, it is aimed to eliminate the lost memory and to bring the current memory to a level where it can continue with daily life by using new information.
The advancement of technology and making it a big part of our lives is an advantage for amnesia sufferers. Patients can perform their daily tasks with tools such as smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches with training and practice. Simple solutions, such as a relative reminding of important events to the phone, can have an impact on patients’ quality of life.
How is amnesia prevented?
Small changes in your lifestyle will help reduce the risk of factors such as head injury, stroke, and dementia that can lead to memory loss. These changes are:
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
- Taking protective measures, such as wearing a helmet, in situations where there is a high risk of head crashes
- Being mentally active (such as exploring new places, reading books)
- Doing physical activity (doing exercises appropriate for age and health status)
- Eating a balanced and healthy diet (paying attention to vitamin and mineral intake, avoiding fatty meals)
- It can be listed as consuming enough fluid.
All these measures can help you live a long and healthy life by reducing the risk of amnesia as well as many other diseases. Today, one of the main goals of medicine is to identify at-risk people before they get the disease and to regulate risk factors to prevent the disease completely. You can protect yourself from diseases by avoiding risky behaviors, malnutrition, smoking, and alcohol consumption. We wish you healthy days.