What is Post Traumatic Amnesia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2019
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Post traumatic amnesia is difficulty with memory recall and formation associated with traumatic brain injury. Patients experience disorientation and confusion because they may not remember events immediately preceding or following an accident. The more severe the injury, the more serious the post traumatic amnesia, and the level of difficulty with memory can provide information about the patient's prognosis and the kind of recovery to expect.

In retrograde amnesia, people cannot recall memories they have stored; for example, someone in a car accident might not remember getting into the car and going somewhere, and will experience confusion because a chunk of her day is missing. Anterograde amnesia, occurring after the accident, makes it difficult for people to form memories, and thus they have no memories to recall. Our hypothetical car accident victim might not remember interacting with emergency services on the scene, consenting to medical procedures, and being taken to the hospital.

Traumatic brain injuries ranging from mild to severe can cause post traumatic amnesia. The brain is a very delicate organ and it is especially easy to interfere with the processes involved in creating and recalling memories. With a mild injury like a concussion, the subject might appear awake and alert after the injury, but could later have trouble recalling the events the occurred during that time. In severe brain injuries, patients can experience substantial problems for weeks or months in the wake of the injury.


The risk of post traumatic amnesia is a concern any time care providers are working with someone who has a brain injury. Doctors frequently check on patients to see how alert and aware they are, and to determine if they understand where they are and what is happening. Doctors may also reintroduce themselves to patients and repeat information to make sure the patient understands the situation, rather than making assumptions about the patient's abilities. If a patient becomes agitated and combative, doctors may recommend sedation or temporary restraints to avoid further injuries.

For friends and family members, post traumatic amnesia can be challenging to deal with. Patients may forget a variety of things and can have continuing trouble with memory formation. Setting up routines for patients is important, as is being supportive to make sure people feel comfortable asking for hope or requesting clarification. A doctor may also recommend periodic neurological evaluations to check on the patient's progress and determine if strides are being made in recovering old memories or forming new ones.



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