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Paper on Amnesia

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Amnesia is typically defined as partial or total loss of memory. The occurrence of amnesia can arise at any age. Individuals who suffer from amnesia typically remain lucid and preserve their sense of self. Amnesiacs can obtain a perfectly normal appearance despite the amnesia. Moreover, they also have the capacity to read and comprehend words. Based on these facts, researchers have arrived at the conclusion that more than one area in the brain is used for storing facts.

One type of amnesia is Anterograde Amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is defined as severe amnesia and causes superfluous difficulties for those suffering from it. Anterograde amnesia is when people find it extremely difficult to recall ongoing events after a significant amount of brain damage has occurred. They do not forget past events but have an arduous time remembering day to day events. An individual who suffered from anterograde amnesia was H.M. He suffered from severe epilepsy, so a medical procedure was done that was supposed to alleviate him of his symptoms. Parts of H.M.’s medial temporal lobe were removed, which included the hippocampus. H.M.’s epilepsy was improved but he was now faced with an even bigger problem, he could no longer form new memories. His short term memory was unaffected, he was able to recall a series of numbers that were momentarily presented but could not retain the information over long periods of time. The long term memories that he had formed before the operation were intact, and he even performed well on standard IQ tests. It was now evident that the regions of the temporal lobe and hippocampus were impertinent structures in forming long term memories. In addition to this kind of amnesia, there are also other types.

The opposite of anterograde amnesia is retrograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is another severe type of amnesia but does not cause as many problems as anterograde amnesia does. Retrograde amnesia is when people have a hard time retrieving memories that occurred before some type of brain damage transpired. Often times, people do not remember exact occurrences down to the last moment before brain damage took place. If the person experienced  brain damage in their forties, they may have excellent memory of their childhood and young adulthood, but the years leading up to the brain damage will be “shady”. If the person was married during these “shady” years they may not recall it. Currently, they have way of restoring memories that were lost through retrograde amnesia.

Another type of amnesia is Korsakoff’s psychosis. This is a type of memory loss that occurs due to alcohol abuse or malnutrition. The person’s short term memories will often times be intact but they will have severe problems evoking long term memories. This tends to be a progressive disorder which is usually accompanied by neurological problems. Some of these problems might include uncoordinated movements and loss of feeling in the fingers and toes. If a person experiences these symptoms, it may be too late to stop drinking because the damage is already present and is usually irreversible.

Another type of amnesia is traumatic amnesia. This type of amnesia is brain damage caused by a severe non-penetrative blow to the head. Traumatic amnesia can lead to anything from loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a coma. An additional form of amnesia is hysterical amnesia which is also known as fugue amnesia. This form of amnesia is linked to psychological trauma. It is usually temporary and can be triggered by a traumatic event that is difficult for the mind to deal with. Memory usually returns within a few days, but memory of the trauma may remain incomplete.

A final form of amnesia is infantile/childhood amnesia. This kind of amnesia refers to a person’s inability to remember events from their early childhood, typically the first five years of life. Freud says that this occurs because of sexual repression, but other psychologists say it is because it too painful to remember. Others though, say it is due to the lack of language developed or the fact that some areas of the brain linked to memory have not been fully developed yet. Another theory held by Anna Freud as to why we do not remember our childhood memories is because children and adults organize memories in different ways based on their brain’s development. While still others believe that children begin remembering facts and events once they have accumulated enough to be able to relate experiences to each other.

Another type of amnesia that is unusual but not uncommon is transient global amnesia or TGA for short. TGA is the sudden onset of forgetfulness and confusion. It usually occurs following physical exertion. During a severe attack the victim experiences total disorientation except for their own identity. This is combined with a mild form of retrograde amnesia which subsides when the attack is complete. Attacks usually last anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes and rarely last to be longer than twelve hours. There is no other alteration in consciousness or obvious neurological problems. The person’s behavior is otherwise normal and they usually recover completely with in twenty four hours. People suffering from TGA generally have a complete and rapid recovery. The only time in which a patient is treated for TGA is if it is related to atherosclerosis, which is poor cerebral circulation.

A case was reported in London in 1997 by a man in his sixties who had regularly suffered from migraines. He only experienced amnesia when he was having sex. He would ask questions like “What are we doing?” and “What time of year is it?” However he was able to recognize his wife and was aware that he was having problems remembering things. His amnesia lasted about thirty to sixty minutes and was followed by a complete recovery except for the fact that he could not remember having sex. When doctors looked into his busts of amnesia during sex they found nothing more than an irregular brain signal which they attributed to his frequent migraines.

Amnesia can be caused by one of many things but is most often the result of a severe blow to the head which results in loss of consciousness from anywhere from seconds to months. Some other causes may be an internal trauma such as a stroke or exposure to a toxic substance such as carbon monoxide. Infections that damage brain tissue, poor diet, a brain tumor, or seizures are also causes of Amnesia. Amnesia may also be caused by drug or alcohol abuse.

Many elderly people are given a drug called Benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety and insomnia, something many older people suffer from. The problem with long-term use of Benzodiazepines is that they cause memory loss or amnesia. Benzodiazepines are given to patients prior to surgery so they will experience anterograde amnesia. This affect is not a side affect it is the desired effect and therefore you can see why it may not be a good idea to take Benzodiazepines on a regularly basis.

When diagnosing amnesia doctors look at several factors. They ask the patient about recent traumas or illnesses; drug and medication use and check their general health. Psychological exams may be necessary in order to determine the extent of amnesia and which memory system is affected. A MRI may be done to reveal whether the brain has been damaged. Blood work may also be taken so treatable metabolic causes or chemical imbalances can be excluded.

People who suffer from amnesia due to an emotional trauma may seek psychotherapy because often times through a process of hypnosis the individual can recall forgotten memories. Another way in which amnesia can be treated is through the administering of a drug called Amytal. Amytal is a medication that helps an individual recall repressed memories. The use of hypnosis and Amytal is very controversial. Especially when it is used on an individual who is repressing memories of sexual abuse, because often times after they recall the incident they press charges on the individual they believe sexually abused them. The problem with this is that the validity of these memories is questionable and therefore inadmissible in court. The only time that hospitalization is necessary for individuals who suffer from amnesia is when they are at risk for harming themselves or others.

The prognosis for individuals who suffer from amnesia varies depending on what type of amnesia they suffer from. Individuals who suffer from transient global amnesia generally fully recover with no permanent loss of memory. Those who suffer from other types of amnesia due to severe brain damage may have permanent damage depending on the degree of damage. Even if a person is suffering from severe amnesia it is not to say that they will not be able to live relatively normal lives. Through therapy amnesiacs can learn to rely on other memory systems to compensate for the other memory systems that they have lost.

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