What are Some Causes of Amnesia?

Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

Amnesia is a term that most people recognize as meaning a loss of memory. Memory loss is a big factor with this condition, and there are various reasons as to why it occurs. The common link in all amnesia cases is a loss of brain cells.

Woman with a headache
Woman with a headache

Amnesia frequently occurs due to a head injury in which the brain is damaged. A severe blow to the head can be enough to cause the condition. If a person suffers head injuries while involved in a car crash, amnesia may result. Such trauma may result in brain damage and loss of brain cells, eventually leading to memory loss. The degree of memory loss is usually in proportion to the severity of the blow to the head.

Deterioration of the brain cells due to infections of the brain can also result in amnesia. Infections such as herpes and encephalitis cause the loss of brain cells. Diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can also result in amnesia and memory loss.

Another medical cause of amnesia is a link to alcohol and drug abuse. Wernike-Korsakoff's psychosis is a form of memory loss caused by the prolonged abuse of alcohol. The condition worsens if the abuse is extended and can be accompanied by other problems, such as disorientated movements. There may also be loss of feeling to the body’s extremities.

Amnesia can often be set off by a traumatic incident. Known as hysterical amnesia, it is the brain's way of coping with the trauma. The memory may return within a few days, but it may be incomplete.

The extent and length of memory loss depends on the type of amnesia and the cause of it. Anterograde amnesia sufferers are unable to recall any new information. Short-term memory is erased, as are any recent incidents after brain trauma. However, any events before the trauma will be recalled without problem.

The opposite of anterograde is retrograde amnesia. In this type of amnesia, the sufferer will be able to recall any events after the brain trauma, but none from before. One of the rarest forms of memory loss is transient global amnesia. Sufferers of this disorder have trouble retaining new memories, but also have a slight loss of memory going back only a few hours. This type of memory loss is supposedly temporary and is more common in elderly people suffering from vascular problems.

The main problem with memory loss and brain damage is the loss of brain cells. Because of the integrated network of brain cells, those that are lost cannot be renewed. Psychotherapy, some medicines and hypnosis have often been used to help recall lost memories. The degree of success involved with these methods depends on the individual and the amount of brain damage involved.

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Discussion Comments


@Bhutan - You know I recently read a story about a man that apparently had a case of amnesia retrograde and amnesia anterograde. He had virtually no memory at all. He could not remember anything before the incident, nor could he remember anything after the incident.

What made matters worse was that this man was mugged and beaten and his wallet was stolen. When the police found him, he did not even remember his name or where he lived. That must have been really scary to have your whole life be wiped out like this.

He befriended a nurse who let him live with her and she is trying to help him figure out his identity. He said that for some reason certain things become more prominent than others. For example, he remembers Catholic school and thinks that he might have attended Catholic school but does not remember if he did or not.

It was really sad case because you would have thought that someone would have reported him missing my now.


@SurfNTurf - I totally agree with you. I have also heard that hypnosis is used for posttraumatic amnesia or even childhood amnesia cases because I read that often the brain will block memories that are too painful as a type of coping mechanism. This is the way that people that some people that have had tragic events in their life are able to go on with their day.

It makes sense. I have also read that posttraumatic amnesia has also led some people to develop some form of multiple personality disorder as a way of blocking the memory.


@Anon18039 - I am not sure, but you should have him evaluated by a doctor to be certain. I just wanted to say that I saw a case on a talk show about a lady that had a severe case of amnesia retrograde because she was able to remember things in her childhood and just before the traumatic event that reduced her memory, but nothing after.

She had very short term memory and even had difficulty remembering her way home every day. The minute that a person or structure left her memory for the moment it was lost for good. I know that a lot of psychiatrists try to offer hypnosis as a way of learning about the patient’s past so that they could help them put their life together.

The use of photo albums and constant picture taking with a video camera also helps. I think that this is really sad because memories are what often fill our lives with joy and to lose them permanently must be devastating.


Can a small blow to the right side of the head cause memory loss of how he got hit?

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