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What is Amnesia, symptoms, signs and Treatment Print E-mail
Written by Glenn Rosenberg   
Sunday, 04 October 2009
Memory loss is the inability to recall people, objects, places, or events that took place in the recent or distant past.
What is going on in the body?

The brain stores different types of information in different places. Short-term memory involves recalling details that have been catalogued seconds or minutes before.
Examples include reciting a phone number, recognizing a new face, or repeating a list of 3 objects seen 2 or 3 minutes earlier. For this to happen, distinct areas deep in the brain need to function properly.

Long-term memory involves the ability to recall events that took place in the distant past. For short-term memory to convert to long-term memory, other permanent changes to brain cells have to take place. This is similar to creating a permanent file or recording. Other parts of the brain perform this filing function.

Occasional memory lapses or forgetfulness are common. These may be associated with depression, stress, lack of sleep, and normal aging. Memory loss only becomes a problem when it is severe and interferes with daily living.

Amnesia is a severe form of memory loss. It may be a partial or complete lack of recall. Depending on the cause of amnesia, the memory loss may arise suddenly or slowly. It also can be temporary or permanent.
What are the causes and risks of the symptom?

Common medical causes of memory loss include:
- normal aging
- Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disorder causing deterioration in memory and thought processes
- depression
- head injury
- seizures
- chronic alcohol abuse
- barbiturates, hallucinogens, and medications such as those used for anesthesia
- electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, which is used to treat some mental disorders
- surgery in the temporal lobe of the brain, such as a craniotomy for a brain tumor
- lack of oxygen to the brain, such as a near drowning
- stroke
- Huntington's disease
- atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
- multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disorder caused by destruction of the lining of nerves throughout the body
- HIV, the immunodeficiency disorder associated with AIDS
- Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of part of the nervous system
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressing degenerative disorder of the nervous system causing problems with walking, talking, and the senses
- Pick's disease, a disorder of the brain that causes slowly progressing dementia
- viral or bacterial encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain
- Lewy body disease, a degenerative disease of the nervous system
- normal pressure hydrocephalus, or increased cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
- chronic subdural hematoma, or bleeding between the brain lining and brain tissue
- brain tumor
- Wilson disease, a rare disease causing an accumulation of copper in the liver, brain, kidneys, and corneas
- neurosyphilis, an infection of the nervous system by the syphilis bacteria which causes weakness and mental deterioration

Certain abnormalities of a person's metabolism or hormones may also be responsible for memory loss. These include:
- hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid gland
- hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid gland
- high-dose steroid abuse
- deficiency, or low body levels, of Vitamin B12
- thiamine deficiency
- deficiency of niacin, which is vitamin B3
- chronic alcohol abuse
- chronic exposure to metals, such as lead or mercury, and to dyes, such as aniline
- medication side effects or drug interactions

What are the treatments for the symptom?

There are several steps a person can take to improve his or her memory. These include:
- following a regular routine when possible
- setting up a reminder system. This may include a book, calendar, or pocket diary.
- making daily lists
- keeping track of daily medications. This can be done with a medication reminder box or a chart posted on the refrigerator.
- keeping track of appointments, birthdays, and bills to pay
- keeping a list of names and telephone numbers
- keeping keys in the same place

The 3 medications currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of Alzheimer's disease are donepezil, tacrine, and rivastigmine. These medications are designed to improve memory by increasing the amount of acetylcholine in the body.

Other medications, such as risperidone or quetiapine, may also be used to help behavioral problems such as hallucinations, delusions, or agitation. Some individuals with memory loss may also need medications for depression, anxiety, or insomnia.

Other treatments include support and education for those caring for people with memory loss. Individual and family counseling can be beneficial. It's also been found that support groups assist caregivers. As the memory loss progresses, many families are unable to care for the person at home, and placement in a special facility becomes necessary.
What are the side effects of the treatments?

Medications used to treat memory loss can damage the liver, so periodic liver function tests are needed. Other side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, vomiting, fatigue, or muscle cramps.
What happens after treatment for the symptom?

In most cases, memory loss is a degenerative condition without a cure. Treatment is lifelong. Because the course of memory loss is unpredictable, individuals with the condition should make plans for end-of-life care while they are still able to participate in the decision-making process.

Difficult issues that family members may face include:
- promoting independence while making sure the individual is safe
- removing driving privileges
- finding supportive care among family or in an assisted living facility or nursing home
- making business decisions
- determining executors of written wills and making sure advanced directives are in the individual's patient file at his or her doctor's office

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