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Amnesia – An overview

by Kamal Salar

Many people are familiar with amnesia from the images portrayed by actors on television and movies. Despite the romanticized portrayal of the disease, millions of people around the world suffer for some form of amnesia. This condition is usually temporary, but can last for long periods of time. Dictionary.com defines amnesia as the loss of a large block of interrelated memories; complete or partial loss of memory caused by brain injury, and shock.

The causes of amnesia can either be a head injury, prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, or it can be brought on by traumatic events. In the latter case the body tries to keep the patient from recalling the blocked out memories until the patient is ready to do so. Drug addicts may experience similar memory loss similar to amnesia, but the cause is chemical in nature. Events that happened during blackouts caused by drugs will not return to a person’s memory when the toxic chemicals are removed from this system.

Amnesia affects different people in a different ways. Some victims will not be able to remember the previous day, while others will be unable to access huge portions of their memory. Currently, no cure exists for the condition. The best strategy is waiting until the memories of the stricken person return on their own. Amnesia strikes both genders and does not discriminate on basis of a person’s age.

Symptoms of Amnesia

According to Healthcares.net, a person who suffers from amnesia may show any or all of the following symptoms: loss of memory (which must be present for a doctor to make an amnesia diagnosis), confusion, disorientation, difficulty learning and retaining new information, and an inability to recall information that the person had previously known.

Two Common Types of Amnesia

Two types of the disease are dissociative amnesia and selective amnesia. In the first form, the victim blocks out a period of time related to a traumatic event in their life, while in the second the person blocks out the memories of a single event. In both types of amnesia, the body uses the memory loss as a defense mechanism to keep the person from recalling the painful events. People suffering from dissociative amnesia may go further and develop a more generalized memory loss in which the patient can remember none of his previous life.

With selective amnesia, a single traumatic incident has been blocked out by a person’s mind. The selective amnesia victim could be a witness to a horrible accident or crime such as sexual abuse. Often a patient suffering from the selective form of the illness will be able to remember the events leading up to the incident, but not the actual event itself. Trial Witnesses who cannot remember the details of an accident are showing symptoms of selective amnesia…

Dissociative amnesia occurs in patients who are exposed to horrible events for longer periods of time and the dissociative variety is common among combat veterans and those who were witnesses to natural disasters.

Common Treatments for Amnesia

If drug abuse caused the memory blackout periods, cleaning the chemicals out of the patients system and having him abstain from the chemical that caused the problem is probably the best course of action. If a blow to the head or concussion caused the temporary memory loss, medical professionals must rule out any other causes and give the head injury time to heal. Older people who suffer from Alzheimer’s may incur loss of memory as their Alzheimer’s progresses. New medications help a patient’s brain function properly and help keep him independent longer, but an Alzheimer’s patient will eventually need to be taken care of in a nursing home.

The Controversial Use of Hypnotherapy

Other psychiatric techniques exist to help a person whose memory loss has been caused by a traumatic event, but while hypnotherapy is still used on a limited scale, it remains the most controversial method..

For patients whose amnesia has been caused by a psychological trauma, psychotherapy, in combination with hypnosis and a drug called Amytal, may help. Both hypnosis and the use of Amytal have been called into question, especially when the drug is used to bring about repressed memories. Rather than having the patient recall events that actually occurred, many therapists planted false memories in their patients, who use hypnosis in this circumstance must be extremely careful not to plant replacement memories in the victim and many mental health professionals recommend hypnotherapy be avoided entirely in such cases.

Finding Professionals to Treat Amnesia

Because amnesia is a serious and stressful illness both for the victim and those around him, doing a little research can help loved ones of an amnesia patients find professional who can competently treat this ailment. While drug use is a common cause of memory black outs, drug induced black outs are not considered to be amnesia. Getting such a person into a rehabilitation clinic and finding a way to keep him off the substance that caused the memory loss in the first place is the best course of action. Phone books and the Internet are invaluable resources for people looking for a rehab center or a psychiatric professional who can help a person who suffered memory loss as a result of a trauma recover the missing memories.

Alzheimer’s is a debilitating, regenerative illness that can also result in the loss of the patient’s memory. While those who have not experienced the disease first-hand cannot truly know the horror of watching a loved one degenerate in this manner, organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association can help caregivers keep up on the latest issues, treatments, and medications available to those who suffer from the disease.

No cure exists for either form of amnesia, but time may cause the patient to recover the lost memories. Psychotherapy may help in some cases, but people looking to offer the services of a therapist should make sure the person is licensed in by the local government to practice psychiatric medicine. The Amnesia Home Page is a good source of general and treatment information about the disease.

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