Amnesia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Amnesia is when a person can no longer memorize or recall information that is stored in memory. It is very rare, despite being a popular theme for movies and books.

Being a little forgetful is completely different to having amnesia. Amnesia refers to a large-scale loss of memories that should not have been forgotten.

These may include important milestones in life, memorable events, key people in our lives, and vital facts we have been told or taught.

Fast facts on amnesia

Here are some key points about amnesia. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

Amnesia is an inability to lay down new memories, recall old memories, or both.

Other symptoms of amnesia can include confusion and uncoordinated movements.

Alcohol abuse can lead to a type of amnesia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Amnesia can be caused by many things including traumatic experiences and brain injury.

Amnesia usually resolves without treatment.

What is amnesia?

[Realistic brain illustration]
Amnesia may result from a head injury.

People with amnesia also find it hard to remember the past, memorize new information, and imagine the future. This is because we construct future scenarios on the basis of our recollections of past experiences.

Our ability to recollect events and experiences involves a variety of complex brain processes. We still don’t understand exactly what happens when we commit something to memory, or when we try to retrieve data stored in our brain.

Most people with amnesia are usually lucid and have a sense of self. However, they may experience severe difficulties in learning new information, struggle to recall memories of past experiences, or both.

Picture of a head shape, with parts disappearing
Amnesia is a rare condition.

The following are common symptoms of amnesia:

The ability to learn new information is impaired in anterograde amnesia.

The ability to remember past events and previously familiar information is impaired in retrograde amnesia

False memories may be either completely invented or consist of real memories misplaced in time, in a phenomenon known as confabulation.

Uncoordinated movements and tremors indicate neurological problems.

Confusion or disorientation may occur.

There may be problems with short-term memory, partial or total loss of memory

The person may be unable to recognize faces or locations.

Amnesia is different from dementia. Dementia includes memory loss, but it also involves other important cognitive problems that may affect the patient’s ability to carry out daily activities.

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Any disease or injury that affects the brain can interfere with memory. Memory function engages many different parts of the brain simultaneously.

Damage to brain structures that form the limbic system, such as the hippocampus and thalamus, can lead to amnesia – the limbic system controls our emotions and memories.

Medical amnesia

Amnesia resulting from brain injury or damage.

Possible causes are:

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