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What is Amnesia?
Amnesia, also called amnestic syndrome, is a condition in which the patient experiences memory loss. The condition may have a physical cause, such as an injury, infection, or other trauma that impairs brain function. Amnesia may also stem from a psychological cause, such as a traumatic experience that serves as a trigger for the loss of memory.
Some types of amnesia, depending on their cause, can be temporary, and the patient will eventually regain lost memories or the ability to create new memories. In other cases, especially where the amnesia is caused by physical damage to the brain, the memory loss may be permanent.
Amnesia is different from dementia. Dementia patients often experience memory loss, but they also suffer from other cognitive problems that are usually not present in cases of amnesia.
The most common symptoms of amnesia include:
- Inability to recall information, events, people, and/or experiences.
- Difficulty recalling past events that occurred before the beginning of the amnesia. This is referred to as retrograde amnesia.
- Difficulty remembering new information or events that occur after the beginning of the amnesia. This is called anterograde amnesia.
- “Memories” of events that didn’t happen, or confusion about when actual events occurred.
- General confusion.
Dissociative amnesia caused by traumatic events may take several different forms, including:
- Generalized amnesia. In these very rare cases, patients forget everything about themselves, including their identities and life histories.
- Localized amnesia. In these cases, patients are unable to recall a specific period of time or a specific event. Often, the area of amnesia coincides with the experience that triggered the memory loss.
- Selective amnesia. In this case, patients forget only some parts of a specific time period or event.
- Systematized amnesia. Here, the patient loses a specific type of information, such as memories of a particular person.
- Continuous amnesia. In this case, patients are unable to form new memories.
- Dissociative fugue. These cases involve generalized amnesia, and the patient leaves his or her previous routine after losing memories of his or her identity. In extreme cases, the patient may wander to a new location and start a new life.
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