Amnesia is forgetfulness that affects a person’s ability to function. Everybody forgets things sometimes, but this forgetfulness becomes serious and frequent in amnesia. Amnesia could follow accidents, traumatic events or start slowly and then get worse with time. Amnesia may allow you to forget past events (retrograde) or make you unable to store new things (anterograde). Usually, the person doesn’t recognize the problem and as a result, it is the caregivers or the family that bring them for treatment.
Depending on the cause, amnesia may be temporary or permanent. You may have amnesia if you:
- Ask the same thing over and over.
- Struggle with remembering names after being told.
- You can't seem to place faces of people you used to know.
- Get lost on familiar roads.
- Find yourself searching for words in the middle of your statements.
- Can not tell dangerous situations from harmless ones, for example, putting hands in a fire.
- Have mood swings and become uninterested in activities you used to enjoy. You may also find yourself going from sad to happy or indifferent very fast.
- Put objects where they do not belong or misplace things in your own house.
There are different parts of the brain that work together to produce and store memory. Damage to these parts can lead to amnesia. Examples of things that can damage these brain parts include:
- Severe traumatic brain injuries after falls and road traffic accidents.
- Brain infections like meningitis and HIV/AIDS.
- Dementia, which usually occurs with ageing.
- Alcohol intake. Excessive drinking can cause blackouts and gaps in people's memories, while long term drinking can cause a more severe form.
- Deficiency of vitamin B. Eat foods that are rich in this vitamin, such as fatty fish, leafy greens, eggs, milk, beef and fruits (e.g. bananas).
- Radiation like x-rays and radiotherapy for cancer.
- After sad, stressful or traumatic events.
The following puts you at an increased risk of developing memory loss:
- Old age.
- Alcohol intake.
- Little or no mental engagement in the form of reading books or solving puzzles.
- History of recurrent strokes.
- History of radiation in head and neck area.
All the symptoms of amnesia are pointers to see your healthcare provider. However, you should take someone with memory loss to the hospital as soon as possible if you notice one or more of the following:
- They are giving away valuables randomly or are making harmful decisions.
- They have slurred speech or limb weakness.
- They suddenly cannot remember anything.
- The person falls frequently or seems to walk strangely.
- There was a fall before the symptoms started.
- Their symptoms have continued to get worse over time.
These are a few ways to prevent some of the causes of amnesia:
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Eat healthy balanced diets rich in nutrients. Avoid fatty or salty foods, especially if you have hypertension.
- Engage your mind regularly by reading, solving trivia or any other thing.
- Avoid drunk driving or riding bicycles or motorcycles without helmets.
- Weakness of the hands or legs, facial deviation, slurred speech or numbness are signs of a stroke, and you should treat them as an emergency.
- Sleep well. Storage and recall of a memory are best done with a well-rested mind.
- Do not smoke. Studies have shown that smoking worsens the risk of having memory loss and it can also put you at risk of a stroke.
You can do the following to care for yourself or a person with amnesia.
- If you are experiencing a blackout due to alcohol, drinking a lot of water can clear the alcohol from your blood. After a short while, you will start to remember.
- Labelling of doors and containers around the house to help you remember what they are and their uses.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fish, vegetables and fruits.
- Stop smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol if you currently do.
- Drink adequate amounts of water but be careful of too much water in elderly people.
As a caregiver, you can help by:
- Writing out important information like to-do lists, names and other things one needs to know. Put this list in areas they will see it many times in a day.
- Avoiding arguing with them about things they seem to have forgotten.
- Not letting them wander out alone to prevent getting lost at places.
The following are treatments your physician may recommend depending on the cause of your amnesia:
- Antibiotics, antifungals or antivirals for brain infections.
- Lipid-lowering drugs, aspirin and blood pressure drugs to treat stroke.
- Drugs to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
- Sedatives if you struggle with sleep.
- Surgery for tumours and traumatic brain injuries.
- Antipsychotics for irrational behaviour.
- Vitamin supplements to treat vitamin deficiencies.
There is no management or care of people with memory loss without support from family, friends and familiar faces. Due to the lack of memory, their behaviour can be very erratic, causing frustration for the caregiver. The caregiver must be patient and have the right knowledge on how to help people with amnesia. Even when we can't cure memory loss, it is usually possible to prevent it from getting worse. Talking with other people with this same condition can be of help too. Also, ensure you exercise regularly, stay mentally active by taking classes and puzzles and get plenty of sleep.