Memory Lost and Found: Understanding the Different Faces of Amnesia
Awareness Health

Memory Lost and Found: Understanding the Different Faces of Amnesia


You must have seen many movies and series that have depicted the loss of memory or identity, using the term ‘Amnesia’. While that gives a vague idea of what it means, a lot more information and research backs the word up. The word ‘Amnesia’ originates from ancient Greek, and means ‘forgetfulness’.

Amnesia is the loss of memory regarding information, facts, or even one’s experiences, rather than the loss of one’s true identity. It can be characterized by loss of previous experiences, or the inability to form new memories. This is a very common symptom of many diseases. Although there is no specific treatment, identifying the underlying causes can prove to be helpful in cases of amnesia. This article aims to provide a detailed picture for a reader to be able to effectively describe what amnesia truly means, along with its types and causes.

Read More: Dementia vs Amnesia

Types of Amnesia

Amnesia can be of many types, depending on its origin. The most common of them are anterograde and retrograde amnesia. Let’s look at what each type means.

  • Retrograde Amnesia: This kind of amnesia makes a person unable to recall past events. A 2014 study titled “Profound loss of general knowledge in retrograde amnesia: evidence from an amnesic artist” finds that deficits in terms of retrograde memory are broadly spread, including knowledge that a person encounters repeatedly over their lifetime.
  • Anterograde Amnesia: In this kind, previous memory remains intact, but difficulties arise in forming and retaining new memories.
  • Post-traumatic Amnesia: This is a result of an injury. Post-traumatic amnesia can result in a combination of the other types of amnesia.
  • Transient Global Amnesia: A temporary state of amnesia that usually occurs in middle-aged or older people. This lasts for less than 24 hours and is characterized by anterograde and retrograde amnesia go hand-in-hand.
  • Infantile Amnesia: As the name suggests, it refers to the inability to remember information from one’s childhood. Almost everyone experiences this kind of amnesia.
  • Dissociative Amnesia: This kind of amnesia doesn’t have a physical cause or origin. It is a result of psychological disorders or events that cause extreme stress or trauma. This is further divided into localized, selective, generalized, and continuous amnesia.


Some multiple factors or incidents are capable of making a person experience amnesia. It can be developed from a traumatic birth, brain injury, encounter with disturbing situations, etc. However, these can broadly be classified into neurological and psychological causes.

  1. Neurological Causes: This is a result of a medical condition or substance use. This kind of amnesia can be referred to as ‘organic amnesia’. It is characterized by progressive damage in a brain region or a disruption in a certain brain activity. It can be caused by substance abuse, brain tumours, head injuries, toxins, etc. It can also accompany disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, or Multiple Sclerosis.
  2. Psychological Causes: Any physical factor does not cause this. Instead, it is a result of mental health issues. This type of amnesia is also known as ‘psychogenic amnesia’. These causal mental health issues are usually a result of traumatic or stressful situations. These situations include experiences of violent crimes, going through abuse, surviving natural disasters, etc. It can accompany disorders like acute stress disorder, seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or any of the dissociative disorders (including dissociative amnesia, depersonalization/ derealisation disorder, or dissociative identity disorder).

Diagnosing Amnesia

Symptoms such as difficulty remembering a person’s face, forgetting road routes, being unmindful about upcoming events, etc. are some ways to identify amnesia. Other symptoms include feelings of confusion, experiencing false memories, or being unable to form further memories. Amnesia usually accompanies another disease or disorder as a symptom. Diagnosing amnesia can be a long process. The doctor starts by taking a medical history of the patient. This gives them a clear picture of existing medical conditions, previous injuries, or other factors that might have played a role in the onset of the patient’s symptoms.

Then, they continue with a physical and neurological exam. This helps gauge the presence of impairments, and also to rule out other possible causes of memory loss. Further, a patient might have to go through neuroimaging processes such as MRI or CT scans, which help in observing any abnormalities in structure that can be a cause of amnesia. These are just some of the tests done to diagnose it. In case there are no organic causes found, psychological testing is done to determine any causes of psychogenic amnesia.

Coping with Amnesia:

There is no cure for amnesia itself, however, treatment is possible by focusing on the treatment of the causal condition. Since causal conditions are spread across such a wide spectrum, treatment methods vary as well. Sometimes, people with this disorder are unable to process what they are going through. The good thing is that the brain is sometimes capable of healing itself.

Other times, they find themselves in a difficult spot since they are not mentally equipped to make informed medical choices for themselves. However, with the help of family support, these individuals can get through the tough times. They can further engage in occupational therapy or cognitive rehabilitation programs that are designed to assist people. Using memory aids such as notes, diaries, or calendars, an individual might be able to preserve their memories.

Famous Case Studies

It is rather well known due to its portrayal on screen and is fairly common in real life as well. However, there have been many bizarre case studies of amnesia that were noted over time. Patient H.M. (Henry Molaison) is one of the most well-known amnesia cases. He went through brain surgery in the year 1953 due to his severe seizures, which involved removing portions of his hippocampus. As a result, he used to forget instances as soon as they occurred. This led to the understanding of the hippocampus’ role in memory.

Clive Wearing is a former musician who developed amnesia as a result of a viral infection that affected his brain. His case stands out since he retained his musical abilities despite his amnesia, highlighting that memory impairment is selective. Other famous case studies involve that of Agatha Christie, Scott Bolzan, Patient R.B., etc.


If you are someone who might have amnesia, chances are that you won’t realize it for a long time. It may even be that you only know about it since your family members have informed you. The effects of amnesia can be permanent, but there are ways to deal with it. Approach and work with a therapist and a doctor. Get into the practice of writing down things that you remember if possible.

It’s okay to depend on your family as well. Don’t let your pride come in the way, causing more pain to you, as well as your loved ones. If you have questions about everything you are going through, it is best to ask your healthcare provider about it. Do not be afraid that you might have asked the same question before. Even if that’s the case, you can be sure that your healthcare providers will handle the situation with patience, keeping your best interest at heart.

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