Amnesia is a form of memory loss. People with amnesia (also known as amnestic syndrome) have trouble learning new information and building memory. However, contrary to what is thought, these people; they are aware of who they are, they have no problem with identity. The disease usually does not affect people’s muscular skills. Mild memory loss can be considered normal with aging, but memory loss is severe in amnesia.
What are the types and symptoms of amnesia?
• The most important symptom of amnesia is memory loss. Patients; has difficulty remembering situations, events, places, and small details. There is no big change in muscular skills. The patient can continue walking and speaking fluently. There are different subtypes of amnesia and each has its own symptoms.
• Retrograde amnesia: People with this disease begin to lose memory created before the onset of amnesia. Short-term memory created just before the disease starts is more affected by this loss. Patients have trouble remembering names, people, faces, places, general information. Long-term memory created in childhood and youth is affected slowly by the disease. While people cannot recall recent events, they can remember a childhood memory. Skills such as cycling, driving, playing the piano are unforgettable. There are subtypes such as focal retrograde amnesia, dissociative (psychogenic) amnesia.
• Anterograde amnesia: In anterograde amnesia, the person cannot create new memory. There is a problem in generating new information. The person cannot remember the last meal they had eaten, someone they had just met, a new phone number, or the change they made in their daily routine. This situation may be temporary or permanent. For example, the inability to remember anything after excessive alcohol consumption causes temporary anterograde 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 in attacks and lasts for a short time. During the attack, the recent events begin to disappear from the mind. The person cannot remember where he is, how he got to where he is. He may also not understand what is happening 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 they are and remembers who they know well. Attacks begin to lose their effect within hours. During the recovery 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. In order to lose pre-built memory, there must be widespread deterioration of brain tissue. This deterioration can be caused by dementia types such as Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with dementia experience a loss of newly created memory rather than previously created memory.
• Damage to the hippocampus: The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory. It has complex and difficult tasks such as memory formation, memory organization, and recall of information when necessary. The cells in this part, which must be constantly active, need a lot of energy. Cells cannot fulfill their functions in situations such as failure to provide the necessary nutrients and oxygen for the cells, and the presence of toxic (harmful) substances in the environment that will prevent the cells from functioning properly. In this case, it leads to a problem in memory formation. Disruption of the hippocampus region, located in both the right and left lobes of the brain, leads to anterograde amnesia.
• Head trauma: Head trauma that 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 a temporary blackout in people. This is an example of temporary anterograde amnesia. Long-term alcohol use leads to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. In patients with this syndrome caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency together with alcoholism; Symptoms such as amnesia, 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 the thoughts and events they are afraid to deal with and cannot overcome. He doesn’t want to remember. Some patients may experience behaviors such as traveling without informing their relatives, leaving their surroundings.
• 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 neurology doctor immediately. When applying to the doctor; Questions such as when the symptoms exist, whether there are factors that trigger their occurrence, whether they are seen in episodes or continuously, whether they worsen or remain the same over time, whether there have been events that may cause head trauma recently, and the presence of additional diseases should be answered. Answers to these questions contain clues that can be very helpful in making a diagnosis.
In the diagnosis of the disease; Tests that help evaluate the cognitive state of the patient such as history, neurological examination, physical examination, thinking, judgment, remembering long and short-term memory should be performed. In addition, imaging techniques such as MRI and CT can be used to show brain abnormalities that may cause disease. Also, conditions such as infection, vitamin / mineral deficiencies that may cause amnesia are investigated by blood test. EEG (electroencephalography) can be taken to observe brain activity. With EEG, it is investigated whether there are seizure-like conditions in the brain.
There is no curative treatment for amnesia. When the underlying cause of the disease is found, treatments for this cause are applied. For example, in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, alcohol withdrawal and thiamine deficiency should be corrected. In cases where the underlying cause is infection, the infection is treated first and the progression of the disease is tried to be stopped. Amnesia caused by dementia is often incurable, but some medications to support learning and remembering may still be prescribed.
Occupational therapy can be considered as an option in cases where memory loss is permanent. It is aimed to fulfill the lost memory in the company of an occupational therapist and to bring the existing memory to a level that can continue daily life by using new information.
The advancement of technology and its becoming a big part of our lives is an advantage for amnesia patients. Patients can perform their daily tasks with tools such as smart phones, tablets and smart watches with training and practice. Simple solutions such as putting a reminder on the phone for important events by a relative can be effective for the quality of life of patients.
How is amnesia prevented?
Small changes in your lifestyle will help you reduce your risk for factors such as head trauma, stroke and dementia that can lead to amnesia. These changes are:
• Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
• Taking protective measures, such as wearing a helmet, for situations where there is a high probability of getting hit to the head
• Being mentally active (such as exploring new places, reading books)
• Performing physical activities (exercise 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.