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Amnesia is the total or partial loss of memory, resulting in the inability to recall often-important information.
There are many different classifications of amnesia, each with a range of causes. Generally, however, amnesia can be categorized in two ways.
Post-traumatic amnesia is usually due to a physical injury to the head, such as a fall.
Conversely, dissociative amnesia is caused by psychological distress. It has been suggested that a psychological defense mechanism impairs a person’s ability to access their memories of a severely traumatic experience, such as a violent attack.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The most common and essential symptom of amnesia is memory loss. As a result of this, some patients may become confused, depressed or further distressed.
Patients will often describe having a ‘gap’ in their memory, with gaps having the potential to span from minutes to years.
Doctors will perform a physical examination and imaging tests to determine, if any, the physical causes of amnesia. If the tests indicate nothing, psychological tests are also done.
Treatment for amnesia requires the patient to feel secure and calm. Memory retrieval techniques may be employed if the lost information is urgently needed. Hypnosis or sedative-facilitated interviews may be used for this purpose.
Filling the memory gap as much as possible helps to restore continuity for the patient, and reaffirm their sense of personal identity.